Man vs. Serpent

I’m afraid of snakes. Irrationally, terribly afraid. So when I saw one in my yard — MY yard — last week, I did not take it lightly. A true monster, this garter was fully grown — upwards of 20 inches.

It slid away as I moved a bag of grass clippings along my garage. Faster than I would have thought possible, right into a row of thick bushes. 

Now I know what I’m about to say makes me a bad person. Garter snakes are, by all accounts, good creatures to have in your yard. They control pests, pose no risk to people and generally won’t try to get into homes. Despite fully knowing this, I decided that if I saw the thing again, I’d kill it. 

I told Kip about the snake, and of course he was thrilled about the prospect of seeing it. He wanted to give it a name. But his curiosity can be creepy sometimes too, and along with asking about a name, he asked if we’d be killing it. I had to admit that I was going to try. 

I’m not sure at what point his fascination with dead animals should be a concern. I guess he’s not killing them himself, which is good. But he’s always been fascinated with dead things. For example, on a recent cabin trip: “Daddy! You’ve got to see this! There’s a bird with its wings ripped off on the beach!” It’s either a very healthy or very unhealthy attitude about death. I can’t tell which. 

The morning after the serpent sighting, we mowed the lawn and I saw it again. It was catching some sun on the rocks by the bushes. Just relaxing, as if it had no idea it was A SNAKE. IN MY YARD.  

Its relaxation didn’t last long — it sensed me and retreated to cover. I went into the garage and grabbed my shovel. 

And there was the boy, apparently with some innate sense for carnage, right behind me.

“You’re going to hit it with your shovel?” 

“Yeah. Well, maybe. I don’t know.” 

Kip disappeared for a second while I cautiously peeked into the shrubbery. He came back carrying his own shovel — a small blue plastic one. “Like this!” he said as he slammed it into the grass. It was cute, in a weird way, because he was trying to give me some honest snake-spearing advice. He didn’t realize I was hesitating because I was sure it would jump out at me at any second.

Eventually, we saw it and began our pursuit. We followed it back and forth a bit, gaining and losing sight of it as it slinked along the foundation of the garage. At one point, it appeared through a gap in the bushes, and I knew it was my chance. 

I gritted my teeth and lunged, closing my eyes and turning my head as I thrust the shovel through the bush. Yes, I closed my eyes and turned away. That says enough about my hunting acumen right there. It is instinctual for me to CLOSE MY FREAKING EYES as I strike. 

The shot was wild, and I was secretly relieved for it. But, impossibly, my shovel had connected. I saw a large red gash in its belly, some bubbles of innards oozing out. 

I wasn’t sure if Kip had seen, but he soon cleared it up. “Daddy! You got it! I could see its MEAT!” 

Kip’s always had a knack for being especially observant. Meat. Oh, man. It was so perfectly disgusting and so perfectly apt. 

I told Kip that it was over and we’d pick it up later and took him inside, leaving the snake to wait with its meat hanging out. 

I returned alone, found the creature and finished the job. It wasn’t pretty. If your goal is to finish a snake to avoid as much suffering as you can, it’s going to be messy. Snakes are either very hard to kill or they continue to move after they’re dead. I guess it doesn’t matter which. In any case, many more eyes-closed stabs were made. 

After the snake finally stopped moving, I let Kip come back out and see it. I figured he might as well see the end result after what he’d already seen. We put it in a bag and put it in the garbage. 

It was a moment of triumph for me. I had faced my fears. Defended my home. Killed an animal. Manly, right? 

Not at all. I had expected that feeling, but it never came. The truth was that a snake wandered into our yard, and I killed it because I was scared. Because snakes don’t run very fast. 

As a kid, I watched my dad kill a few snakes and other animals on our farm. So I have to admit that disposing of this snake did make me feel a little bit more like him. More like a dad.  

But I think that “dad feeling” comes from reluctantly doing something I didn’t want to do. Because I didn't want to go snake hunting. And I REALLY didn't want to try to catch it and release. If I wanted to feel most like a dad, a man, a role model, I should have done that. 

As it was, I just felt kind of sad. It bothered me mostly because of the message it sent Kip. 

I can say that the boy has an odd fascination with dead animals, the truth is that killing things is just what we do. Ants, spiders and apparently small animals if they’re creepy-looking or bothering him.

At some point, Kip asked why we killed the snake, so I told him that it was a mistake, because snakes are good and we should have just moved it. I told him I killed the snake because I am very afraid of snakes — too scared to try to catch it. 

So my final message was that I was scared and made a poor decision. Not exactly the manly dad feeling I thought I might have, but I admitted it. And I hope that doing so at least provided one worthwhile lesson for the day.