- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Snake On The Cement
The Snake On The Cement
The warmth of the summer sun was irresistibly calling me in June of 2003. I had just moved into a newly built home in Central Wisconsin. I had chosen sand country because of the incredible fir trees of the region. The one-eighth acre of "nothing but soft sand" was packed with dozens of tall red pines. They were old. Their red bark was deeply etched from years of Wisconsin weather. They were majestic. They towered over me allowing the sun to streak through in sketchy, artistic patterns. I had designed the house myself to fit with the contours of the property in all it's unique glory. The back of the property sloped drastically downward to the center and then upward at the front, creating a bow or bowl effect. So, I requested that the builder create a retaining wall behind the house from the trees which were cleared where the house stood. I could not bear to see them go to waste. They made a neat five foot wall which allowed for complete privacy at the back of the house from prying eyes. Those prying eyes tended to be soft doe eyes or the black marble eyes of wild turkeys which had flown up into the trees to sleep.
The house itself was beautiful. It sat in its little bow next to and below the garage, which was reached by steps leading up from the back door. The climb was about 6 feet from the bottom to the top, and the cement steps were wide enough so that the average person could take 2 to 3 paces on each one. The exterior siding was light sage green to blend in with the aspects of nature that I sought in this little haven of comfort. The interior was all natural. The floor was a natural-looking laminate. The walls were boards of different lengths; each one beveled on all four sides. They were stained to match the color of the floor. Together they produced a warm glow day and night. The layout was an open concept on the entire first floor except for the bedroom and bathroom. There was a cathedral ceiling. The small kitchen flowed into the dining area, which in turn flowed into the living room in an L-shape. The lower portion of the front wall of the house was made of real stones which had been cut in half. Large picture windows facing the south allowed not only for the sun to shine in, but for the viewer to connect to the outdoors. In the corner of the dining room was a small wood stove; its black pipe reaching up all the way through the roof. Even though the stove was small, in the winter it heated the entire house from 40 degrees to about 80 degrees within an hour. I used to enjoy waking up when it was icy cold in the bedroom, donning my robe and slippers, and stealing out to the dining room to quietly start a fire. I would then run back into the bedroom and snuggle under the covers until the fire had created enough warmth to motivate me to get up again and prepare breakfast.
From the dining area rose a spiral staircase that my father and I had built from a kit. There was a second sleeping area up there, which held a beautiful sleigh bed behind a handmade railing. It was a simple yet comfortable guest room. Once in a while I would sleep up there during a thunderstorm. I loved hearing the boom of the thunder on the roof just over my head. I could hear the crack of lighting as it would hit a nearby tree. It was the most comforting sound to me as I would fall asleep.
There were two neighbors living on either side of my property on that road. The rest was forest. On the west side was a couple with teenage boys who would ride their dirt bikes around on a small track in the backyard on Sunday afternoons. Otherwise I rarely saw them. On the east side lived a retired couple; he of the tall and large variety, and she average. I had more contact with them and more conversations about various aspects of life. We knew one another well.
On this particular weekday morning, the sun was glinting between the tops of the pines. It was warm and yet the air was cool in the woods. I decided to sit in a small lawn chair on one of the wide steps which led up to the garage; just a little way from the back door of the house. I put on a pair of fur-lined moccasins which I used as slippers, picked up my favorite mystery at the time, and stepped outside into a spot of sunlight that was just the right size for relaxing in. I retrieved my chair from the garage, and set it up on the cement slab next to the backdoor. I began reading with earnest eagerness, and was soon enveloped in the story. I don't know how much time passed, but the combination of the warm sunlight on my head and the cool breeze on my face caused me to feel drowsy. I closed my book and my eyes for what I thought was just a few seconds.
My hazy mind was drifting but my senses alerted me in an understated manner that something seemed vaguely wrong or out-of-the-ordinary. I can't say what caused me to do so, but I looked down at my feet which were encased in medium brown moccasins, and planted flat on the cement. I could not seem to adjust my vision. Something was wrong. The cement in one area next to my right foot did not look right. It didn't seem to match the rest of the cement. It was whitish gray like the rest of the cement, but after about two seconds (which seemed like two hours) I realized that the cement touching my foot had a dim, thin crisscross pattern which created diamond shapes across a certain area. This area was about the thickness and length of my forearm. At the top of this area I recognized two tiny black eyes looking directly up at me.
In a flash my mind put together the following pieces all at once. Two eyes on the top of a head mean it's a viper. The cement that had diamond shapes on it came into focus as a thick muscular body which was horribly deformed because where there should have been a tail was nothing more than a stub. It was a snake! The snake was up against my moccasin touching me!! It was touching me!!! In an effort to get away from the danger as fast as I could I attempted to bolt from my lawn chair to no avail. My body temperature had increased while I was sitting there. The backs of my legs were sweaty and stuck to the material of the chair. The chair was small and low to the ground. I could not get any purchase between my feet and my butt or gain momentum to free myself from my predicament. All of this happened in literally 5 seconds or less.
By this time all my sympathetic nervous system responses had kicked in. My heartbeat was way out of control, my pulse was racing beyond belief, my mouth became exquisitely dry, my underarms were soaking wet, all my body hair was standing on end, and I was stuck in a small lawn chair with a viper touching the length of my moccasin! I was so shocked I could not even scream. I have no recollection of how I freed myself from the chair, but suddenly I was up and out. I ran away from the snake scaring the poor thing so badly that it headed in the opposite direction, which was toward my backdoor. Fortunately, the door was new; it fitted the frame and was firmly shut. I do remember that a "kill" instinct rose up in me. I leaped up the stairs into the garage and grabbed a shovel. By the time I ran, shaking, back down the stairs with the shovel poised over my head ready to strike the object I felt had violated me, the snake was taking action. It attempted to get underneath the siding of my house in frantic twisting motions on its stubbed tail. It made a grotesque spinning and curling dance along the siding looking for a place to hide from its pursuer. For some reason I suddenly thought that I should catch it and allow my husband to see it. So, I ran back into the garage and frantically grab a 10 gallon pail. I returned to attack the snake with a shovel and a bucket. I took one cowabunga swat at the snake and it coiled to face me. My mind screamed that this was a cobra. "Oh my God!" I thought. "Someone brought a cobra to Wisconsin! I'm allergic to everything, and with my luck I'll get bit and die!" It raised up, bared its fangs at me, and made a strike as I attempted to get the bucket over the its head. I was so frightened that my aim completely missed and I ended up lamely tossing the bucket in its direction. By this time I had also lost my shovel.
So, back up to the garage I leaped hoping to get another shovel and another bucket. Fortunately, both were there. I grabbed them and ran back down the steps. The snake was gone. I mean it was nowhere to be found. I froze in terror. I had no idea where it may be hiding. Was it under the leaves around the house? Was it hiding beneath some wood on the yard? Was it sneaking up on me as I stood there wondering? There it was! It was in front of the house about 10 feet from me. I charged again hoping to capture it in the second bucket. The same thing happened again. I made a lame attempt to cover it as it struck at me hissing.
I literally could not move for some time after that. My mind was churning and my thoughts racing, but the snake had disappeared. Where was it? I became so distraught and so overwhelmed that I could not think. I only reacted. I held onto the shovel running up past the garage to the blacktop driveway. I figured that if it followed me I would be able to see its pale gray body against the black color of the driveway. I sat down, hugged my knees up to my chest shovel in hand, and had one of the worst panic attacks of my life.
My neighbors to the east of me eventually pulled into their driveway. I bolted onto their property in a flash and dashed at their SUV. I was crying, yelling hysterically, and still holding my shovel. The husband, a 400 pound man who used a cane, quickly rolled out of the vehicle and moved faster than he had in years to get his shotgun out of the house. His wife, on the other hand, leaned over to the driver's side of the vehicle in an attempt to understand what was wrong. When she finally comprehended what I was upset about she could not believe it. Her husband thought that a male intruder had chased me from my house, and was attempting to harm me. They thought nothing of my extreme traumatization from a snake.
I never did go back into the house until my husband returned from work. He found me sitting on the blacktop driveway hugging my knees to my chest; still holding my shovel. I blurted out, "I got attacked by a cobra today!" He did not know what to make of this, and I told my story the best I could. The next morning we went to the local pet store and asked what the creature might have been. We were told that it was most likely a "puffer snake" or "swamp adder" which is in the family of vipers. When I returned home to look at photos of a puffer snake online, the snakes on the websites were all longer and much thinner than the one that he slithered up to me. Later that same week our realtor said that he had been bitten by one while showing some swampy land to a buyer. He said that his leg had swelled up to twice its size, and none of the doctors at the local hospital had experience dealing with that type of bite.
Looking back at the incident I'm certain that from the snakes point of view, the back of my moccasin looked like a mouse or rat, and it may have been hungry. The snake was light colored because it had lost its skin and was moulting. It most likely had lost its tail through an accident or by a hungry predator. It certainly didn't have any intention of harming me, Or did it?