The snake

strim-1PETROL strimmer lying on the ground. Choke turned on. Fuel turned on. I pull the cord once, twice, and on the third pull the engine barks into life. I increase the revs. But instead of a continuous, single-cylinder whine I hear a dull chug-chug indicating something is coiled around the cutting head. A piece of wire, brambles, end of a washing line, something like that. I flick the switch to cut the power. A ball of grey, black and silver unravels from the cutting head as the engine stops. It’s a snake . . .

Horror. The snake is wriggling in a patch of sunlight beneath the trees. It’s not going anywhere – just wriggling. I don’t know what to do except stand transfixed as it writhes and buckles, its belly to the sun. How did this happen? How did a snake become entangled in my strimmer?

I slide a stick underneath the snake and ease it over. It’s an adder, about sixteen inches (40cm) long. There is no obvious injury; no deep welt where the tough nylon strands have snared its body and whirled it round. But it feels pain. Snake pain. And snake shock, I suppose.

What should I do? My first thought is to kill it. Find a spade. Slice. But it’s a panicky thought and is soon replaced by reasoned indecision. I just stand and watch until the writhing subsides and the snake adopts a more natural motion.

The snake’s black eye is observing me. It’s one of those eyes that gazes everywhere at once, missing nothing – shiny and deep and hurt. I need to know what it’s thinking, this snake. I feel guilty though I don’t believe I should be blamed. We are both blameless. How do you reason with an injured snake? And how do you say sorry?

After an interval I wander off and strim some ground on the far side of the garden, but every ten minutes or so I am drawn back to the snake. On my third return the snake has vanished. I search the area carefully several times during the day, but there is no sign of the injured snake. I suspect it has disappeared into a wall, gone back to snake world.

Next morning I return to the patch of sunlit grass where the adder had been basking. No snake. I search the walls and places suitable for snakes to venture. I will search again tomorrow because I feel sad and guilty, and slightly ashamed that my first thought was to kill it with a spade.

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22 thoughts on “The snake

  1. Years ago I had a similar experience with a pine marten. Driving at night over High Cross an animal ran out under my wheels.I stopped, went back, and found the inert body. No obvious wounds, but no sign of life either. It was beautiful with silver hairs longer than its main coat, chocolate and fawn markings. It also looked as if it could deliver a nasty bite if it came round so I didn’t want to handle it. 1.00am – what to do. In the end I just left it on the grass beside the wall. Went back next day to look, but it had gone. Hope
    it recovered OK!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ian. Yes, it’s hard to know what to do in those situations. An animal bounds out in front of your car and the next second it’s lying in the road and you can’t do much about it. I would have done exactly the same as you in that instance – put it in the verge and hoped for the best. Glad to hear it had moved on by the next morning.
      All the best, Alen

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  2. It’s probably gone back to it’s mates to discuss how they’re gonna come round your house and give you a bloody good hiding. Make sure all your doors are locked for the next few nights.

    If it’s any comfort you only wanted to spade it to put it out of its misery if it was suffering. It wasn’t killing out of a fear or disgust of snakes. I bet it won’t be sleeping in any more strimmers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did occur to me that they might be ganging up and waiting for an opportunity. There’s not much I can do about that. And it’s certainly making me think twice about doing any camping around here. Don’t want an adder in my sleeping bag (or worse – wild boar, poisonous centipedes), thank you very much.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Hi Alen. I think it’s very responsible to consider euthanasia of the animal.
    The farmers are using scare means in Denmark before harvesting the field in, because the wildlife is hidden in the grain. They are setting deterrents up and going through the fields with dogs. You could take a walk with your cats 🙂 Hopefully the cats will survieve!!
    Once when we sat by a window when a bird suddenly flew into it. It was a terrible winter with lots of snow. When I got outside the bird was still alive. I laid it on some dry leaves to keep it warm and pushed small cuts of an apple in front of it. But in retrospect, I probably scared the poor bird to death by my presence, unfortunately it didn’t survive.
    It is always an evaluation from time to time, but never pleasant.

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    1. Hi Hanna. I like the idea of the scare tactics. Only the other day, a friend of mine was telling me that when they used to cut corn and barley with combine harvesters, they’d see foxes jumping up to look for escape routes. I suppose the other animals in there were terrified as well. When I was a boy we had a bird fly into our window and knock itself unconscious. Can’t remember what happened to it. That was a long time ago.
      All the best, Alen

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  4. Hi Alen, I must admit I’d never think to check my strimmer for adders before firing it up. I suppose your local adder population emerges from hibernation a bit earlier than ours, bearing in mind your somewhat earlier spring; perhaps strimmers are well known, early season sun-traps.

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    1. Hi Dave. Yes, they come out early and there are more of them, I understand. I think I read somewhere there are thirteen varieties of snake over here and five of them are poisonous. I’m treading very carefully at the moment.
      Cheers, Alen

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  5. Have to admit I don’t like snakes at all. Pebbles tried to pick one up last year near Braemar and it struck out at her. Somehow (she was on the lead) I managed to pull her out of the way just in time. I waited for ages before it crawled off and I felt I could walk past.

    You were, of course, only trying to think of killing it, if it had been seriously injured, but I hate them so much I don’t think I could even do that!

    Incidentally, my previous boxer, Dixie, once stuck her muzzle in the strimmer when I was gardening. She got some nasty, painful cuts from it! I felt just awful, and always shut her in the house after that, whenever I was strimming. 😦 In fact, I can still feel that guilt. Sounds like your snake was actually ok.

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    1. Hi Chrissie. You were very lucky you pulled your dog away in time because snakes move so fast. One of our cats was bitten by something last year and we think it was a snake. Her back end swelled up and she could barely move for a week. There was a bare patch under one of her hind legs with two little “pin holes” in the middle. We thought she was going to die, but eventually she pulled through. It was touch and go.
      Yes, I hope the snake is okay. No sign of it since – but it’s been raining hard every day and they don’t like rain. Sunny again this morning so I’ll take another look.
      All the best, Alen

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  6. Go careful.
    Whenever gardening at my friend’s house in Southern France I’m extremely wary of woodpiles which often harbour snoozing snakes. Best to make lots of noise. Even the little ones, like yours, seem vicious when disturbed.
    In Spain I hesitate to move a large stone to sit on – you never no what’s lurking beneath.
    And as for the States I’ve horror stories involving sleeping bags left out to air…

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    1. Thanks for that, John. My reluctance to do any more camping now extends to the States. I haven’t walked in the sea barefoot since I did a post about walking to Lindisfarne and somebody warned me about a certain type of fish that can burrow into your skin (and worse).
      Cheers, Alen

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  7. Awww the poor thing. I’d have felt just the same (like I do if I accidentally stand on a worm or something) – I just stare helplessly and watch it writhing in pain and feel bad. Mercy killing can be exceedingly hard to do though and, if you’re not sure you can make it instant, possibly not worth trying. I’ve seen instant jobs and botched jobs and the botched ones were horrifying!

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    1. Exactly. I’ve seen mercy killings that have turned into botched jobs. And I’m not so sure they are done out of “mercy”, more for convenience and to put an end to the episode. I wouldn’t want to be killed out of mercy if I got tangled up in a strimmer.
      Cheers, Alern

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  8. Bit harrowing (no pun intended). Sometimes I think the guilt goes on longer for garden accidents like this than for deliberate slaughters (that would be me whacking the spiders in the bedroom – though even then I find myself saying ‘sorry – sorry’ as I wallop).

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  9. Nice story, Alen. Walking through Lynton once and saw a house martin on the path, alive but helpless. Feared the worst. Once found a young swift in similar circumstances……. picked it up and it was being eaten by ants.

    Anyway, the Lynton bird – I picked up…it fluttered and I cast it up…..and off it went.

    Smiling all day after that.

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    1. That’s a nice story, Steve. Mind you, I shuddered at the swift being eaten by ants bit. Makes you think – if you break a leg in the hills, what’s going to eat you first?
      Cheers, Alen

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  10. Hi Alen. Years ago I had a call from a friend who owned a garage/filling station to bring my air rifle and shoot a blackbird that was in his spray booth.I responded Ok with the rider that I could charm it out. When I arrived,with rifle a number of people had assembled to witness the action. The first whistle only produced a look of interest from the bird and a muffled reaction from the small crowd. With the bird ‘ semi recognising me I gave a prolonged call and out it came,mutch to everyone’s surprise. Placing the rifle in the car, I just nodded and drove off. The secret of the was my brother and I,after being told we had no chance with a featherless nestling surviving (RSPCA) we did bring it up and gradually returned to the wild.It had our mums friends bemused,at her coffee mornings,by flying in to the conservatory and helping itself to biscuits. Apart from that episode my life has been a total disaster. (Mind,the car being sprayed, was an E type 3.8 Jag and I was allowed to deliver it to the sale-room……that’s another story) Well back to see if there any posts for a Zeppelin stitcher in North Hartlepool. (Savil etc Timothy West in both a barge AND in Bread Winner Hogg.Corrour Gunnery manual ah well must keep you updated. pip pip Peter.

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    1. Peter, that’s a great story. I’ve heard of snake charmers and horse charmers, but never a blackbird charmer. And I’m sure your life hasn’t been a total disaster all the time (I laughed my head off at that line, I’m sorry to say).
      Never saw Breadwinner Hogg, but I think Timothy West should give up that barge thing before he kills his wife. He was good in Brass, mind.
      All the best, Alen

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