Saturday, 24 November 2012

Snakes On My Brain: A True Story

I have a history with snakes. I'm not talking about the human variety that lurk in the grass, pretending to be your friend and then unleash their venom on you when you least expect it, although sadly, I do have a history with these types as well.

For the purposes of this blog post I'm referring to actual snakes, particulary the extremely poisonous ones that live in this wide brown land I call home. Did you know that 20 of the world's top 25 most dangerous snakes are native to Australia? This doesn't inspire much confidence in tourists to this country, but the reality is that many of my fellow Aussies never actually see a snake outside of a zoo or reptile park.

I'm not one of these lucky people. My first encounter with a snake took place when I was about four and I ran up the steps at the back of my parent's house to find a snake sunning itself on the back patio. This snake had to climb up at least 8 steps to get to the patio, instilling me with a deep fear of the lengths snakes will go to get to humans (rationally I know this isn't true, but irrationally I'm sure all snakes are out to get us). A neighbour came over and killed the snake with a shovel, and not long after that I had the worst nightmare of my childhood. It involved thousands of snakes of all different colours writhing over every surface in the house. My most vivid memory of the dream is opening up the drawer of my toy cupboard to find it full of snakes. I'm pretty sure this was my first official nighmare.

Snakes left me alone for a long time after this, despite the fact that I spent a lot of time with my sisters running barefoot through the bush. I was beginning to think I'd never had to worry about them again until my husband and I moved to a remote outback town to teach for three years, and suddenly the snakes were back with a vengance. I didn't actually see any with my own eyes for the first couple of years, but heard plenty of horror stories. Then one day I was returning back to school after lunch when a huge king brown slithered across the path directly in front of me. What was even more terrifying than seeing the snake was seeing where it came from: a clump of bushes in an area where children had been playing just minutes earlier.

Although I was scared, I didn't reach a point of abject terror until I moved into a flat the following year and a baby snake slithered across my husband's foot while he sat at a desk in our bedroom and then disappeared into a crack in the wall. That's right, there was a snake in our bedroom. My greatest concern was for our dog, Scooter, who loves to chase things and wouldn't have hesitated to go after one, with obviously terrible consequences. Within a couple of days both my husband and dog had packed up and left me to it, but thankfully I got a new job just a couple of weeks later and I was out of there too.

I thought I'd put the snakes behind me when we settled back in Sydney in the middle of a very built-up area, but fate it seems had other plans for me. A year after returning to Sydney we inherited a house in a very remote area, and snakes were back on the agenda. The fact that our house had been empty for nearly two years, during which time there was a severe mouse plague, didn't help things along. Neither did the fact that the grass was up to our knees when we moved in, but for a long time the God's smiled on us and there was nary a snake to be seen. At first I was terrified, and anyone who knows me can attest that I talked about snakes a lot, but when the yokels assured us there were no snakes around we grew complacent and let our dog wander freely through the bushes and long grass. That changed this week with two snake sightings within days of each other.

The first sighting was scary because it was very close to the house but the brown snake at least had the decency to remain hidden beneath long grass, and it quickly retreated when it realized I'd seen it. We decided then that the yokels were full of shit and the only way to protect our dog was to keep him inside and supervise him in the yard. (Actually I decided this and my husband thought I was overreacting. This from a man who screams like a girl at the sight of a tiny spider in the toilet!) Not ideal, but I felt that we would all be safe it we just followed these basic precautions. Imagine my abject horror when I walked down the hallway towards the back door today to see a big black snake INSIDE the house. Let me remind you that these snakes are DEADLY and we live 45minutes from a hospital.

It was like my worst nightmare coming to life. At first I thought it couldn't possibly be real, and that I must be hallucinating the whole thing. My second thought was for the dog and I was very relieved to see from where I was standing that he was asleep on the bed, oblivious to the intruder in our home. It was one of those moments in life when I had to make a split second decision about what to do. My first reaction was to scream but then I realized this would alert the dog and he'd come out of the bedroom and probably attack the snake. To avoid this scenario I had to kind of walk past the snake to the bedroom to lock him in. The snake at this point was freaking out and trying to get under the screen door but in its panic it couldn't fit. I was about to close the door leading into that area of the house so I could keep it enclosed in one area when it managed to squeeze its way out and went on its way. I won't bother telling you what my state of mind/behaviour was like in the minutes that followed.

When I finally regained my sanity the first question was: Where did it come from? Had it entered the house the same way, or was there another entry point? How long had it been inside for? The night before we'd heard a couple of noises while we were in bed, so had the snake been in the house all night? Was it locked in with the dog while we went out for five hours today, and was that why the dog was lying on the floor when I got home as if he was stalking something under the bed? The mind just boggles at the possibilities.

Anyway history is repeating itself as husband, dog and possibly me this time make a run for it to the city. The dog is the only one who will get to stay though as we have no choice but to come back for work. The plan is to clear up the yard and block all entry points to house so that unwelcome visitors can't get in. We're planning to start renovations soon and all the noise should drive them away, and hopefully keep them away forever. I really hope I've had my last encounter with these terrifying creatures because snakes are not one of the most potent symbols of evil for no reason.

Rationally snakes are very shy creatures and will only ever bite as a last resort. Everyone I've told a about my snake encouters has asked me if I killed them. Nooooooo. Most bites occur when people try to catch or kill snakes. Give them space and let them go on their way unharmed and they will gladly reciprocate.

The only positive I can draw from this situation is that I'll be able to use it in my writing if one of my characters ever has the misfortune to come across a snake in his/her house. *shudder*

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