Sipping on a cup of coffee the other morning, possibly the last thing I expected to hear my wife, Cheryl, blurt out was that there was a big snake in our plum tree.
But there I was, sipping innocently on a hot cup of coffee and thinking about things that generally did not involve snakes, regardless of the size, or plum trees, especially since there were no plums on the tree to prompt that sort of mental consideration.
Which is why I was, admittedly, a little surprised when my wife did, indeed, rush through the back door to make an announcement.
“There is,” she said, “a big snake in the plum tree.”
“You sure?” I asked.
“Where’s the hoe?” she explained.
I slipped on my shoes, took a last sip and started out the back door, suddenly feeling great concern that this could be a dangerous mission.
“It didn’t say anything, did it?” I asked.
“Say anything? How’s it going to say anything. It’s a snake!”
“I mean, it didn’t mention eating any fruit by any chance, did it? Like an apple maybe? If you see a snake hanging in a tree and it wants you to eat a piece of fruit, it’s usually up to no good and just wants to get you banished. You just can’t trust a serpent. And I will not go along with it, either. I, for one, will not be party to starting that mess up again.”
“Just shut up and help me find a hoe.”
Snakes may not be trustworthy, but they are pretty slick. This one — which was about 3 1/2 feet long but should reach a good seven feet by the time my 17-month-old grandboy, Jacob, is old enough to hear the story — was particularly clever.
It had found the perfect place for a meal.
What we have in the plum tree is a couple of bird feeders that hang from limbs. Underneath the plum tree, we have two birdbaths that Cheryl diligently keeps filled with water. She wants me to diligently keep the birdbaths filled with water, too, but sometimes I am lost in a world heavily weighted toward sipping coffee and not thinking about snakes and plum trees, and don’t think to do it.
This particular plum tree, grown from a sapling of a plum tree that was at her homeplace, has been a popular spot for cardinals, blue birds, finches, blue jays and other song birds all summer. There are a couple of bird nests in it. As far as birds are concerned, it’s a nice place to go hang out with your buds, snack on some premium bird seed, visit the birds with the summer plum tree homes, and have a nice chirp while splashing around in either of two spacious concrete baths.
A little over a week earlier, Cheryl had asked me if I’d noticed there were hardly any birds hanging out at the feeders lately.
“Do you think there’s a snake or something out there that’s scaring them off?” she asked.
“I doubt it,” I said, which, in retrospect, was a position that could have been thought out a little better before I offered what seemed at the time a reasonable assessment. “You know how housing is these days. Probably had their nests foreclosed on. They’ll be back when the market straightens out.”
There was, it turns out, very definitely a snake in the tree. What this one did was it wrapped itself around the limb, slithered down and ran its body along the decorations on the tall, skinny bird feeder. You had to look pretty closely to see that it wasn’t just elaborate ornamentation. As it, for lack of a better term, snaked down the feeder, its head was just a couple of inches from where it no doubt fervently hoped an unsuspecting, fat little bird would land to munch on some seed.
It was hunting on a baited field.
Now, over the years I’ve sort of gotten over my once paralyzing fear of snakes. That stemmed from an unfortunate event when I was a young boy and my parents were installing central heating and air in our home. Everyone was outside looking at the heating and cooling unit except me. I had gone inside to use the bathroom, sat down, looked down and froze. A brown snake slipped out of the new air-conditioning grate on the floor. Already in a position that badly compromised my ability to deal with an adverse situation, I was faced with the task of summoning help without riling the snake that was curling up on the floor and flicking its tongue in a way my young mind immediately interpreted as menacing.
So what I did was I whispered — urgently and, unfortunately, ineffectively, “Help ... help ... help ...”
It went on for a while.
Fortunately, Daddy noticed I been gone too long, came to check on me, whacked the snake and observed, “Next time you need help, you might want to increase the volume. Works better.”
At this point I’d probably label my opinion of snakes as a healthy respect coupled with general distrust and a deep desire not to be bitten. Cheryl, however, has absolutely no use for them, which is why the whole expedition for the hoe had been launched. This was a case of birds, which she liked, versus a snake, which she didn’t. This was not going to end well for the bird-eating snake.
But, I did manage to get a few pictures of the bird-hunting serpent and posted one on Facebook.
And I got asked the inevitable question: What happened to the snake?
“The Lord,” I delicately replied, “called him home.”
Sitting on our patio drinking coffee this morning, I was looking at that plum tree and listening to the birds and a thought struck me: The world might’ve been much different place if Adam had just thought to grab his hoe.
Email Jim Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.