Almost three weeks ago, Sweetheart walked upstairs in our farmhouse and I heard one of those screams Hollywood films love to have in the can. Nothing forced, nothing acted — a full-fledged, let-go, high & mighty scream. I could only wonder downstairs. I asked up the old New England stairwell and was told a snake was in the bedroom, stretched across the white wool rug, comfortable as can be, four-feet long. No one wants a snake in their bedroom. Kokomo our cat was in residence five feet away, perched, just studying. Sorry to say during our action to remove the snake, the snake got away. And we didn't know where.
We figured it must have gone back the way it came in. Back to the big woodshed where it belongs. Back into the stacks of oak, maple and especially yellow birch firewood where it likes to hang out all summer and shed its skin against the rough bark. I find the skins up there all the time. One week, two weeks, by that time we were convinced the snake was gone. We forgot about him.
Guess what? The snake was in the bedroom last night.
I came up at midnight, saw Kokomo on the end of our bed looking across to where he usually sleeps on the window bed (the one I built last year, he loves it). I had a dim night-light on in the room and came within one inch of putting my hand right down on the snake. It was on the bookcase with built in table-shelf I built for placing things. I was picking up a book, and did, to take to bed when I caught a shape in the corner of my eye and asked myself what is that? : a ribbon, a piece of Sweetheart's sewing fabric, a long bootlace? Then I came to the head and those two steady eyes. And whispered, "What da fuck...?!"
I looked at Kokomo, who looked at me, and we both said with no words, "Now what?" It's midnight. Sweetheart's fast asleep. We can't wake her up and make things worse. She'll never go back to sleep if the snake gets away.
The snake is curled like a master in-and-around-and-over-and-with all the stuff on the open shelf. It's a masterpiece of snake positioning.
I can't shoot it, don't want to shoot it, may shoot it. I have rat-shot in the corner and my .22 rifle.
I turn a flashlight onto the snake. It isn't bothered. Kokomo sees I'm heading into action so he jumps off the bed and onto the window bed and is a foot from the snake. The snake doesn't care. Kokomo comes around the open shutter window and gets inches from the snake. No movement. Kokomo does the pre-cat pounce by flexing his back legs and practicing a paw movement like Ray Allen does on the foul line with one of his arms playing for the Miami Heat. He throws 98% foul shots because of this flexing and positioning. Snake doesn't care. Kokomo then pounces with his paw, misses a clean strike, and the snake now snake-like veers back. It's suddenly half the size, coiling backwards. . .I watch it coil away and around all the shape and frame of the shelf and head to a glass lamp shade which I'd love and die for Sweetheart to see a snake at work slimming its way over a pretty glass lamp shade, and the lamp is on and warm and the snake takes its time moving over and around the lamp, coiling, down to a small fixed window it tries to climb up onto all four small panes to get away and there is no entry.
The snake doesn't like this. The snake wants to be away. Kokomo is transfixed and watching.
I can see the snake is moving toward the 150 big collection of poetry books, mainly hardcovers, I brought up over the spring after I built a new hefty bookshelf for all the volumes, to be in this special place: the snake is slowly thinking of lifting itself up onto the books, and they're placed by some prominence and also size.
These are the large size books it's heading to: The Book of the Blues, Olson, Frank O'Hara, Henri Michaux, a bunch of their full collections, and at the end is a very large John Cage. He hasn't started climbing yet. Kokomo is now on the ground and stretching up and wondering how he can get up there and get the snake. He's an exceptional mouser for a boy. Sweetheart is restless but not awake. Pretty in her white top and yellow pants, sandy hair all comfy.
I go downstairs and first get on my big rubber boots. I'm barefoot and don't want a milk snake falling onto my bare feet. I don't mind snakes but I want to feel them in my hands only if I have to feel them. While pulling on my boots downstairs I'm trusting Kokomo and the snake are keeping one another transfixed as to where the other is and the snake hasn't climbed onto the books yet. I'm in the kitchen. I remember tongs we use to pull canning jars out of boiling water and think to get that tool for some service, like grabbing a snake.
I rush back upstairs. 12:20 AM.
Sweetheart is now awake because I've opened the door out to the porch before leaving. We're making ready for Lift Off. The snake is now onto Olson, winding and grinding, going slow, over O'Hara, about 12 books here, heading to the tall John Cage volume. When he gets to Ginsberg, Rimbaud and Frost it's over, he'll drop in behind those books and be lost to snake heaven. He'll be in the room again and again.
I grab the sucker near enough at the back of the head. He wraps himself immediately up around the tongs. Sweetheart has said with drama, "Oh, Jesus", hating snakes in her house. Yard okay, garden fine, woodpile of course. Near the bed and barefeet and snoozing, forget it charlie.
I laugh and show her the snake, the tongs, as I likewise move across the room onto the porch, rush river big sound darkness from all the rain this week and complete stillness otherwise and that lush dark as I throw tongs, snake and clear the room. For now.
Kokomo's not quite convinced.
He didn't see me grab, pull and take then leave with the snake. He knows something has happened but he isn't convinced the snake isn't there, and I trust his instincts enough to believe, well, maybe another snake is around. He keeps prowling, snooping, looking, stretching high on hind legs looking and I'm looking with my hunting companion and I guess we'll just have to wait.
"Olly Olly Am Free" is what we used to say at the top of our singing lungs as kids when we played the game kick-the-can. We'll watch and wait to see if snakes play this game.
next day photo by Susan Arnold