Summer of the Reptiles


Even though I’ve probably missed my chance to visit a snake-handling church this summer, my little part of the world has been filled to overflowing with reptiles.

As it always does, early spring saw dozens of snapping turtles emerge from the muddy bottom of our pond where they’d spent the winter. Why they’re not content to stay in the pond I’ll never understand, but a handful always seem eager to make the journey across the pasture, under the fence and through the yard to the swimming pool. You’d think they’d be grateful when I come to their rescue with the leaf skimmer, but anyone who’s ever mixed it up with a snapper knows they don’t go down easy. Or come up, as the case may be. It’s always a tail-thrashing, jaw-chomping battle.

Not so with gentle box turtles who, though they also wander into the pool, are easy to catch. But sometimes a box turtle will surprise you. When I stopped the car to move one from the middle of our driveway one Sunday afternoon, he drenched my church clothes. Who knew turtles have bladders that big?

Then there are blue-tailed skinks, the most common lizard in Tennessee. And the most adorable, which is a good thing since I share my yard, screened porch and house with them. Here’s the thing about skinks. You can’t catch them. Not with a net, not with bare hands, and not by chasing them into a mop bucket with the broom. I found one in the mailbox last week as I was putting in a birthday card. Not wanting him to scamper up the postman’s arm, I tried every way I knew to get that skink out. I banged on the mailbox. I tried coaxing the skink onto a stick. I scooted him with the edge of said birthday card until he was almost out the door, only to have him scurry back. Then I gave up. Sorry, Mr. Postman.

Speaking of cute lizards, the old beach cottage we rented last spring on St. Simons Island was working alive with anoles, lizards whose color changes from green to brown depending on the backdrop. They love to bask on rock walls, porch railings and even in patches of sunlight on indoor furniture. I quickly came to think of them as pets rather than pests.

Not so with my first and only gator of 2014 (so far), treading water in the warm Atlantic Ocean just a stone’s throw from the beach cottage. Check SAW BIG REPTILE off my list.

Now for the snakes. The good news is that we haven’t found a single one—venomous or otherwise—in the house for the past couple of years. The bad news is that hardly a day goes by that I don’t encounter at least one snake somewhere outside. But that’s not really bad news because, in truth, snakes are our friends. They keep the rodent population in check. They keep rabbits from partying in the garden. They keep pigeons from nesting the hayloft. And snakes don’t really want to bite people. Unless a snake is stepped on or picked up, it would much rather slither on out of your way. Not so with man’s best friend. Did you know that a person in the United States is 750 times more likely to be bitten by a dog than by a snake?

That statistic doesn’t surprise me in the least. Because I’ve had to put the pedal to the metal plenty of times while riding my bicycle to escape a snarling pit bull. But not once have I had to outrun a copperhead.

(August 31, 2014)

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