Thursday, July 3, 2014

The snake in the barn

It felt a little like one of those irritating cobwebs as it brushed my noggin while I was looking for a wire stretcher I keep in the barn. I was adding a couple strands of barbed wire to discourage deer and other critters from jumping the fence in the garden, and I wasn't paying attention to whatever it was wafting in the breeze. And then I was -- plus levitating about four feet while I was still figuring out whether that was a snake hanging from a rafter, or just a fully intact skin.
The snakeskin in the barn, swaying gently in the breeze

Of course it was just a skin, so I didn't have to go ahead and have the heart attack and expire right there on the spot. But ever since a worker found and killed a 4 1/2 foot diamond back rattler with 11 buttons rattling across the road at a friend's house a few weeks ago, I've been keeping my eyes open for snakes.  So after my heart rate settled back down, I took a few pictures of this feller's old skin.  It appears to be a good five, maybe six feet long.  It was in the rafter trusses of the barn, wrapped around and wedged into the tight angle where the long stringers met, and evidently used that to slip out of his old duds. Here's a closeup.  I could swear I see where the eyes were.
The business end of that hanging snakeskin

This is the first evidence of snakery I've seen in a while, but I have noticed the field mouse population of the barn seems to be down dramatically in the last couple years.  I thought it might be due to that seven-foot blacksnake I saw east of the house summer before last, when I watched it climb a locust tree. I think it was after a nest of birds, whose squawks ended a couple of hours later. I expect the snake found his quarry.
Took this picture July 20, 2012 as a tree-climber went vertical

I'm respectful of snakes, quite happy to leave them alone and even happier for them to leave me alone.  A neighbor, the late Boyd Allred, who survived WW II and the Korean War, once told me there were only four kinds of snakes he was afraid of: "Big snakes, little snakes, live snakes and dead snakes."  I understood what he meant, but I'm mesmerized when I see a sizable one going about his or her business.

More than 20 years ago, my father-in-law Hal Strickland found a dead rattler in the middle of Belcher Mountain Road.  He recognized it as a rattler, but double-checked his memory with a field guide. Sure enough, that rattler was well out of the bounds of his known habitat.  A second rattler found at our neighbor's house about 200 yards away this summer suggests that the range of rattlesnakes may have changed while no one was looking, up here at 3,200 feet elevation.  One more thing to think about while walking through the tall grass in these hot hazy days of July.

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