Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Fear of Snakes is in Our DNA

By Cam Mather

You’re probably thinking that this post has nothing to do with renewable energy or independence, at least not in the usual sort of way. Bear with me and you’ll realize that it does relate…. after all, those topics are what I write about.

On the weekend I was moving around some old glass windows I had salvaged from various places. I’ve been collecting old glass to build a greenhouse, but now I’ve decided to use some of them in cold frames, and I’ll put these cold frames inside the hooped greenhouse, which I hope to complete this summer. This will help extend our growing season, so yes, in a roundabout way, this is about food independence.

As I work around on my property I am quite accustomed to seeing snakes. Garter snakes in particular love the area around our house because it’s open but has lots of great places for them to hide out in woodpiles, old hay bales, and all sorts of other places.

Right now the rock-filled crib that I built to place some rain barrels on near the barn foundation has about 5 garter snakes living in it. When I walk over there on a sunny day they all slither back into the protection of the crib from where they’ve been sunning themselves. If I’m working somewhere and a garter snake is in the way I will happily pick it up and move it.

I’ve grown accustomed to having lots of other animals skittering around as I move around the property like mice and squirrels, nests of hornets, etc. I’m not some sort of “nature man”, but I’m used to all of this wildlife and so I’ve stopped jumping whenever something crosses my path.

However on the weekend as I was busy cleaning up my collection of old windows, I suddenly noticed this snake was staring at me. I think garter snakes are quite cute and look like they should be in a Pixar movie. But this snake was a whole different ball game. I think it’s called a milk snake so it’s not like it’s poisonous. There are some rattlesnakes in Ontario but no where near me so really; I have nothing to worry about.

But there’s something about the markings on this snake that scares me. It doesn’t come from a fear of snakes, because I’m not afraid of them. But this one is different. There is something about it that says DANGER to me. I think it was pre-programmed into my DNA. I think humans have evolved with a little of block of ROM (Read Only Memory) in our genetics which says “Snakes like this have done bad things to your ancestors, so stay away.”

The milk snake actually started vibrating its tail at first, in a rattling motion, even though it has no rattle. A lot of people kill milk snakes because they look like Copperhead snakes, which are poisonous. From what I’ve read milk snakes eat rodents and all the things I don’t want in my garden, so I’m thrilled to have them.

At first when it saw me it just moved down lower on the glass and one of the many local garter snakes joined it.  Eventually I encouraged it to just move along and we were both happy.

There’s never a dull moment here at Sunflower Farm. Even moving old windows to make cold frames can become a death-defying experience. In my mind anyway.


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