It was a cold and rainy Sunday last weekend, one of the type that seems to invoke a twinge of seasonal depression into all but the most optimistic of souls. Grey clouds with swollen bellies hung overhead like a pod of whales, inhibiting even the thought of sunshine and driving both herp and herper deep within the confines of some warm, cozy place to await the coming of spring, which at this point feels as if it will never arrive.
It was in just such a position I found myself when a most unusual thing happened. I had a cup of black coffee in my hand and a playoff game in front of me and was contemplating a second bowl of soup. Snakes were the furthest thing from my mind, which in itself is atypical. My wife and my mother were headed out the back door for the grocery store, and had just announced it, when the door creaked and two female voices called out simultaneously, “There’s a snake!”
I am still not sure as to the physics behind how I went from a relaxed sitting position on the couch with one hand balancing my coffee to a dead run for the back door. Football and prescription strength coffee and all the other unnecessary winter evils disintegrated as a rare burst of January snake adrenaline flooded my brain.
Of course, had my frostbitten brain been thawed out sufficiently, it would have quickly come to the conclusion that the snake in question wouldn’t be traveling at a high rate of speed, with the mercury sitting at a torpid fifty-one degrees and dropping, and with darts of stinging rain pelting in from a northern wind that seemed to be blowing in at a forty five degree angle. So why the rush? Old habits die hard, I suppose…
Sure enough, there he lay. It was a juvenile Texas rat snake (excuse me, western rat snake, for those few and proud who care; like I say, old habits and all). And what a poor and pitiful, bedraggled fellow he was! I could only see about eight inches of his head and forebody, for the posterior end of him was still in the hollow of the metal door frame, with his tail somewhere above him. The most logical explanation would be that he had been stowed away as a freeloading tenant somewhere in the comparatively warm hibernatory confines of the attic, and had ventured down to get a drink, for he appeared slightly dehydrated.
I knelt down close to the familiar little winter-stratus-cloud grey & leafless-bark-brown blotched serpent with the chocolate line between his eyes and asked him just what he thought he was doing on such a cold and rainy Sunday undeserving of the company of snakes. To which he responded in typical obsoletus fashion by throwing wide his mouth, although in his amorphous-like state it looked more like a yawn.
“Yeah, I know how you feel,” I told him. “Looks like two more days of this dreary stuff. Not to mention it’s only mid-January. I don’t know how long you’ve been asleep.” To which he responded by turning back over himself and slithering back up inside the door frame, probably before we could discuss a rental agreement. “Stay as long as you like!” I said as I uprighted myself, but then I remembered snakes have no external ear openings, and realized that our conversation had been one-sided.
I turned to go in the house and there sat my mother and wife in the car with the motor running. No doubt they were discussing the woes of a son/husband that talked to snakes in the middle of a winter thunderstorm. I waved sheepishly (my wife would later say ‘creepily’) and turned tail for my own winter hibernaculum, where the coffee had grown cold and the sports commentators were droning on about stats. I wondered if my unexpected winter visitor was having a better time up in the attic. Eventually we both would inevitably doze off, where we would dream of sunshine and green grass and mice and road trips until springtime brought us back to our senses. Perhaps on that day we will meet again, at the threshold of the back door of winter.