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Cheryl Hughes: Unexpected Encounters

You know how when you’re a kid, and you tell each other stuff that might not be exactly the truth, but you tell it anyway just to scare the wits out of each other.  I hung on to a lot of that erroneous information for years.  Take the preying mantis, for instance.  When I was in the third grade, one of my classmates told me that her uncle put on his cap one morning, and, unbeknownst to him, there was a praying mantis hiding inside, which bit him, and he died.  Even though, years later, when I learned that a praying mantis does not contain venom, I still steered clear of the ominous-looking creature with the big eyes.  It took my daughter Nikki, and her common-sense approach to nature, to get me over my unfounded fear.


               I had finally gotten over my fear of what my childhood friends called snake holes—those golf ball-sized holes you find next to a house or out-building—by telling myself that snakes had no body parts with which to dig a hole.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself for overcoming that fear until I saw a snake emerge from a hole.  Here’s what happened.  It was on Friday, and I was driving around on my golf cart when I saw what I thought was a metal stake sticking up out of the ground under my clothesline. 

                  “I wonder why Garey put that there?” I wondered out loud.

               As I neared the “stake,” I noticed It had a head with eyes.  It was a snake, that had come straight up out of a snake hole, and was “standing,” so to speak, in order to swivel its head in search of prey.  I got close enough to snap a picture then entered the photo into the inature app on my phone.  The app identified the snake as a Black Racer, aka North American Racer.

               I watched a video on YouTube that pointed out the differences between the racer and the black rat snake.  The young guy held the racer, and a young girl held the rat snake.  They were standing side by side.  The guy explained that the racer is smaller and is a duller shade of black compared to the rat snake, which is shinier.  The racer is much more aggressive than the rat snake, the guy explained. 

“I’ve named this racer Satan,” he said.

               Almost as if on cue, the racer struck, biting the rat snake.

               “Whoa, I didn’t expect that!” the guy said.  (Really?  You did name him Satan, though, didn’t you?)

               The bite barely penetrated the skin of the black snake, so he was none the worse for wear, but I did feel sorry for him, having been placed in the path of Satan, due to no fault of his own.

               Even though the video assured me that the bite of the racer was non-venomous, I think I might delay any trips to the clothesline in the near future.

               I had a second unexpected encounter with nature on a Tuesday night.  I let Brother and Sister cats have the run of my Sunroom during most days.  They have discovered the great outdoors this spring, climbing trees and hiding in shrubs and generally nosing around the yard.  I keep the outside door of the sunroom open a bit, so they can have a retreat.  They have food and water there, and it serves as a shelter for rest when they need it.  I call them into the house around seven in the evening then close and lock that outside door until the next morning.

               On Tuesday, I called the two cats into the house, but didn’t take the time to close the outside Sunroom door, telling myself I would do it before I went to bed.  At nine-thirty, I went to the inside sunroom door—thank God the light was on in the sunroom—and started to open that door in order to close the outside sunroom door, and lo and behold, there stood a skunk eating out of the cat food bowl.

               “Don’t make any sudden moves,” I cautioned, as I moved away from the door and toward Garey, who was sitting nearby.  “There’s a skunk in the sunroom,” I whispered.

               Garey did that stealthy, commando-style move toward the gun safe he does at the mention of any unwanted creatures on the place.

               “Do not shoot him in the sunroom!” I whispered as loudly as I dared.

               “I’m not going to shoot him in the sunroom!” Garey whispered back.  “I’m going to wait until he goes outside.”

               I started to suggest what my nephew suggested to his wife when she asked what to do if she encountered a snake in their yard.  “Just give him your wallet and slowly back away,” he told her.

               At that point, I would have given the skunk the sunroom and the entirety of its contents.  Garey, however, was a bit more patient.  He waited until the skunk ambled toward the door, but his line of sight was blocked by some boxes, so he couldn’t be sure the skunk actually exited the room.  We both decided it would be wiser to leave the door open all night and hope the skunk left in search of other food sources.

                He did.  I now lock the sunroom door every evening at promptly six pm.  I’ve had all the unexpected encounters with nature I can stand for one week. 



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