Brian ran over a snake with the lawn mower today. In honour of this - and because I haven't yet put down on paper the new piece that I have in my head - I've posted a piece I wrote in my pre-Kimberley life. It was published in Earthsong, a spiritual nature magazine.
I’m in my pink chair with a cup of tea, making plans to weed the garden bed next to the stump. As I sometimes do in summer, I rehearse my snakebite plan. It’s always a possibility – I see at least two snakes every year. Don’t panic, don’t run; ring the ambulance; then ring my husband to tell him I’m on my way to hospital. I sit for a few minutes more, looking through the window at the garden and the bush beyond.
A little head with glittering eyes appears over the sleeper that contains the rose bed on the other side of the lawn. Before I register what it is, the rest of its body flicks over onto the grass. It has a bright yellow belly – a young tiger, perhaps. I make sure Max the dog is still asleep on his mat before I go out to look for it. Gone. No weeding today, then.
Later I walk carefully up the stone steps to my studio, keeping Max close to me. I work on the computer for a few minutes, then hear the blue wrens screaming “snake” on the bed with the climbing roses. A quick glance shows nothing – back to work.
The bird noise becomes more insistent. Now they’re sitting on the sloping bank beside my studio, a male and female blue wren, and a scrub wren, screeching their heads off. From the bottom of the bank I look carefully on the ground where they are.
What happens next is odd, but it’s happened to me twice before. I’m looking at where I know there is a snake, but my eyes, or perhaps it’s my brain, cannot register it. After about ten seconds there’s some shift in my consciousness that allows me to see it where it was already, lying motionless and in plain view. There must be an explanation, but I haven’t heard one.
A slim reptile, with a yellow belly and spots on the scales around its mouth, is curled around a rock, facing the birds, which are very close to its head. The blue wren male is stretched out towards the snake, body almost flat instead of the normal 90 degrees between body and tail. His mouth is wide open in a continuous high-pitched scream. Do snakes eat tiny birds? Not this time anyway, as it slithers slowly back into the roses and weeds, showing its full metre length.
Next day, in my pink chair again after lunch, Max on his mat, I look through the window at the garden, and the same triangular head appears over the edge of the paving next to the house. The snake slides onto the bricks and explores the pergola. It comes nearer the window and freezes, stalking a lizard. On my belly beside the glass I have my first chance to look closely at a snake. At this distance I can see its eye: not cold, like a bird’s, but alert and intelligent and certainly not evil. I can see it breathe, see its skin rise and fall, once a minute. The lizard runs away, and the snake continues across in front of the window and around the garden bed with the clematis. I watch it slide, almost invisible in the short grass, past Max’s empty kennel. I stand at the back window, waiting, and its little head appears at my feet on the other side of the glass. It looks in the window, but shows no sign of noticing me. It moves to the next window and starts to rub its cheeks on the glass, one side then the other, over and over. It seems to be enjoying the cool and smoothness of the glass. I feel honoured to watch the small pleasures of such a wild, maligned fellow creature.
At the back of the house the snake slides onto the doormat. It rests for a few seconds, then slips down into the trench beside the back veranda bricks. It moves slowly, visible only as shining patches in the grass, then turns right, slides across the driveway and into a clump of kangaroo paw.
Later, I stand at the kitchen window eating a kiwi fruit that I nearly drop when the snake pounces out of a clump of grass, perhaps after another lizard, then slides towards the house, out of my sight. I check the back door, worried it will slide between the wire and the glass, and then come in when I next open the door. Not there.
Back at the front of the house, my hand is on the handle of the wire door, ready to open it and see where the snake has slithered to, when I hear a rough rasp familiar from other encounters. There’s a coil of scales on scales as the snake does a U-turn to disappear out of the space between the window and the glass door. Outside still, but it’s made my heart thump harder.
The tail flicks between the rocks that hold the front window shutters open. It stays there for a minute or two, then the snake comes out, stalking another lizard. The lizard escapes and the snake turns back to the blue pots at the front door.
Enough! I bang on the glass and the snake changes from hunter to hunted in an undignified second. It speeds away over the lawn and along the sleepers. I throw some pebbles that hit it and make it slip further under the banksia.
D.H. Lawrence’s poem is bright in my mind. How sad that I have to be the one to shatter its calm exploration of our house and garden. Everything else is left in peace – frogs, lizards, wombats, birds of every kind, native bees, even rabbits and snails, but not a confident, curious, young snake.
We leave next day for two weeks at the beach, hoping the snake will make a more graceful and permanent exit.