I am taking a seasonal “break” from my vegetable garden. We both need a rest. That does not mean I do not visit the peppers, tomatoes and chard that are still braving the morning frosts and check my garlic and onions that will fair for themselves until Spring.
It is so quiet in my garden. I have come to expect the sounds of the quail fleeing as I approach, the bees thrumming away, the hummingbird careening past and, most of all, the lizards scurrying everywhere I move. You see, the lizards keep me wary of another visitor to my garden – snakes.
I live in the foothills of California now – an unfamiliar environment for me and every snake I encounter or image must be categorized “Rattler” or “Friend”. My dad was enamored of snakes, so I grew up knowing their beneficial qualities. He flaunted a scar on his thumb where a king snake tagged him as he rescued a garter snake from it’s jaws. If gophers infested our garden, we drove to my grandfather’s Sonoma County farm, “invited” a gopher snake for a hunting vacation, and then returned him well-fed a week later. We had a burial ground under our weeping willow for the snakes the local bullies would torture and my sister would then try to nurse to health.
In my adult gardens on the coast of California, you did not pick a zucchini before making a positive identification – real zucchini do not wrap themselves around your hand and try to bite you. Trimming your privets had to be done by hand – no power tools, please -garter snakes can look very much like branches stretched across two limbs trying to absorb sunshine through the fog. I unintentionally discovered how to breed snakes when using black plastic to deter weeds – they love the warmth, safety (well, at least until my children learned how easy they were to find there).
But now I live in this environment, where, for the first time, I feel a snake might present a danger (no matter how infinitesimal). This is an entirely new element to gardening for me and it was not until the quiet of my winter experience that I realized how much I listen to my garden. I am grateful for this realization and I wonder how long it will take for me to again welcome snakes into my garden.
Pam Morrison Says:
Jan 6th, 2009 at 10:03 am
“I enjoyed your article and it’s quiet practical approach. We live in the Sierra Nevada Foothills as well and can see as many as 40 rattlesnakes per year! We get along with them though gardening is a risky business. I try to always check my beds carefully before beginning work in them amazingly they are still invisible. One year while spending hours thinning and pruning the forsythia low and behold ““Raphael”” had been with me the whole time . . . all three feet of him! And then there was the time when ““Rodney”” got tangled up in some bird netting and it took me and my husband over an hour to free him . . . very scary! And then there was the time ““Rachel”” was sunning on the rocks with all of her babies draped like ribbons across her back. We have been cautious and careful for over twenty years I hope our luck continues. The snakes are beautiful.”