Yes, I have donned yet another hat, or should we say turban? The turban of a snake charmer...
O and I were taking Cookie the dog for a walk yesterday evening when we heard a neighbor's voice over a wall:
"Sir, could you please help us?" She was standing on her front stoop with two small children, a girl and a boy.
O replied, "Sure, what's the problem?"
"There's a snake on our front patio," she pointed.
And, knowing my husband, I chimed in, "In that case, I can help you." (O later told my mother on the phone that he couldn't possibly have helped since he was holding onto the dog's leash - yeah right.)
Apparently, they had been throwing rocks at a 3-foot-long snake all afternoon to try to get it to leave their sun-warmed stonework garden. There was a metal rod in the yard, and by scraping it along the patio, I was able to coax it out of the stone wall, down the walkway and out the gate. Her 6-year-old then presented me with a sharp-edged slate rock "in case I wanted to kill it". Now, why on Earth would I want to do a thing like that? I just stomped along behind it, and it slithered across the road and into the fields. But, I got the feeling that this new neighbor of mine thought I should have finished 'em off.
It is now snake season in LaMancha. Temps got up into the 90's this past weekend, so they're out in full force. I sensed one moving in the grass while I was watering the garden on Saturday, on Sunday I saw another in the road and now on Monday the visitor at the neighbor's. And it's not even summer yet.
In Spanish, these snakes are known as culebras bastardas (yes, you know that translation, don't you?), or Malpolon monspessulanus. They are venomous, although their venom is only strong enough to stun small animals, and they can get big, real big, like 7-to-8-feet-long big. And the big ones are tough as nails. I've driven over a 4" thick one with my minivan (at night - didn't see him until I was on top of him) with all four wheels, then stopped the car and saw him slither away through my rear-view mirror. I have even seen them jump in the air and climb the side of a brick house. Nevertheless, what I have never seen them do is attack when unprovoked. They literally just go off in the other direction.
Of course, that doesn't mean that the first time I came across a baby bastarda in my garden I didn't grab my cell phone with my left hand and a shovel in my right hand, crying to my husband on the phone that there was a baby snake in the yard and all I could think of was, "Where's Momma?!!" For days, I was leery of letting my kids play out in the yard, believing that she was lurking in some corner, waiting to strike like the cobra from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. And, one day, I did come up against her. And I didn't have my cell phone. And I didn't have a shovel in my hand. Actually, I didn't even have a breath in my body because I just went numb. So, what did BIG Momma bastarda do? She just went the other way (actually, she jumped a good 18 inches into the air, but she did go backwards).
I don't know if it is common in Spain or LaMancha in general, but in my village the norm is that if you find a snake, you kill it. Bastardas eat baby rabbits, hares and partridges, and I'm sure they wouldn't turn their nose up at the offerings from a chicken coop. So, it is understandable that in a farming and small-game hunting community, these snakes are the devil incarnate. But, I myself don't keep chickens, nor do I hunt, and if there are a few less tick-bearing, rose-bush-eating, vegetable-garden-digging rabbits and partridges in my yard, then hooray! Oh, and can we talk field mice, like the ones nesting in my basement and garage, nibbling on my hand-made almond soap to oblivion? Less would definitely be more. And let's not forget the bastardas natural predators: my friends, the eagles who live outside my living room window.
So, I may just be acting like "that crazy American woman" once again by not killing my neighbor's snake. I could care less about what she may think. What I do know is that yesterday I taught a little 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy how to get a snake out of their yard by dragging a metal rod on the ground and by stomping like an elephant. And they didn't have to kill it.
Just call me the snake charmer. Or the subversive teacher. (oh no! another hat!)