Sharing the Ozarks With a King
JOHN and I found our wooded Ozark land with its spring-fed creek and deep hollows full of dogwood blossoms on a Saturday in May. On the following Saturday, we were signing papers at the bank.Skip to next paragraph
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When we told my mother we were buying land in the Ozarks, her first question was, "Have you seen any snakes?"
Whether or not snakes live in the Ozarks, the only possible answer to her question was "No."
Until we came to Spring Hollow, my encounters with wild creatures had been limited to birds and squirrels: that is, unless the creatures were caged, stuffed, pickled, or pictured. The only other wildlife I had come into contact with was a snake.
I found the snake when I was playing in our yard, and even to a very little person, it looked like a very small snake. My father said it was a garter snake. As far as my mother was concerned, it might as well have been a rattlesnake, and it must be killed.
I played inside the house for the rest of that summer, though we never saw another snake in the yard. As a matter of fact, I haven't seen a snake in the city since then, but the fear remained ... a primitive terror based, so I thought, on the natural antipathy that comes with being human.
My mother would not believe there is such a thing as a harmless or beneficial snake. I knew if I told her now that we were sharing the Ozarks with snakes, we'd never get her to come near the place. So I said the only possible thing: "No snakes."
Of course I was not telling the truth. We saw our first Arkansas snake when the real estate agent's car swerved to avoid hitting a long black thing stretching over half a country road.
"Black snake," he said. "Good things to have around." We were driving along the front of what was by then our own property. That snake was obviously one of our neighbors.
Every bit of Eve's old horror swiveled down my spine, and I was too shocked and embarrassed by my reaction to say anything. For the first time I wondered if I could cope with country living. My doubts bothered me almost as much as seeing the snake.
I watched as it swirled across the road and disappeared in a patch of blackberry bushes at the edge of our property. How could I ever learn to live with that snake and all of its relatives?
For the next few days I tried to keep snakes out of my thoughts as completely as I wanted to keep them out of my woods, but it was no use. The horror wouldn't go away. I wanted desperately to love everything about Spring Hollow. I knew country people had to cope, but even before we had enjoyed one Saturday alone on our land, I had failed miserably.
After spending a few more days floundering in my own confusion and fear, I decided to go to the city's central library and find out more about snakes. I located the section on reptiles, and looked carefully up and down the narrow aisle before I took any books off the shelf. I was unable to shake the feeling that snakes were a deviant interest. When no one was looking, I pulled out a few books and took them to a corner table.
The snake we had seen, the books told me, was a member of the King snake family. This large snake is respected because it eats rats, mice, and other snakes, especially venomous ones. It is normally mild in temperament, and a friend to the farmer as long as it is kept away from the eggs in the henhouse.