Snakes in a stable 

Published 12:09 pm Thursday, July 27, 2023

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It had been a tough week…broiling summer temps and an unwell horse that needed round the clock care. When the worst had passed I was looking forward to no longer nodding off in a camp chair next to a stall, but rather, actually inside the house. 

Savoring the cool shower and air conditioning I allowed myself just over an hour’s luxury of modern conveniences before venturing out to the barn once more for a quick check. Grabbing a T-shirt and a pair of Paul’s boxers (as one does) I stepped back out in the blast furnace that is July and could hear the industrial swamp fans going full tilt inside the barn before I got there. The stall windows at the back of barn showed me that our patient was up and demanding dinner—always a good sign—and as I sauntered round the back of barn and into the aisle I stopped cold.

Just as I had jinxed us earlier in the year by announcing, “You know, we haven’t had any stray cats show up in a long time” resulting in plethora of pusses following their own North Star to our property, I had also recently said to Paul, “I haven’t seen a black snake all year.”

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Any countryfolk will tell you that black snakes, rat snakes and hog nosed snakes are our besties as they take care of rodents and keep the copperheads away. Staggeringly, I have lived on this farm for 24 years and in all that time I have never seen a copperhead. Oh, I’m sure they’re out there, it’s just that I’ve never seen one, but I have seen a ton of black snakes, including one that was hanging from the branch of a pin oak that smacked me on the head as I walked beneath it. Not his fault—he probably figured I was just another tree. But now as I stepped into the barn aisle, there was a patterned brown and tan snake moving rapidly towards me.

“Are you a copperhead?” I said in alarm as it continued, seemingly locked and loaded on my muck boots. “Are you a freaking copperhead??” It’s telltale coppery head was all the reply I needed.

There was no sharp spade at my disposal—they were in the tractor shed—and Samuel L Jackson was nowhere in sight. Then, to my horror, the snake made a sharp, slithering turn towards one of the horses’ stalls.

One reads about mothers with super human strength that miraculously lift a car off a child, that sort of thing. It’s a sort of survivalist surge of adrenalin, I suppose, at our disposal when faced with life or death. I didn’t experience that surge, but I did see a tunnel vision of red fury as lunged across the aisle and grabbed the pitchfork with its inefficient, plastic tines. And listen, normally, I’m a ‘live and let live’ kind of gal, but…

“If…you…think” I yelled, beating the snake in the rhythm of each word the way our moms used to hit us with a hairbrush, “that…I…just…went…two…days…with…NO…SLEEP…and…THOUSANDS…of…vet…bills…so…YOU…COULD…COME…IN…HERE…AND…BITE…A…HORSE…WELL… (I’ll omit the last two words but you can guess what they were)!!!

I picked up the snake, dazed, with the pitch fork and flung it into the manure pile. No sooner had it landed than it turned and came back! Right at me!

“Are you on meth?? Are you some kind of crackhead copperhead?” I bellowed. “You can’t be serious!” Beating it to a pulp, I once again flung it onto the manure pile where it showed its own adrenalin rush by limping slowly into the woods.

But what if it was going to get its posse? And come back??

Grabbing my phone I instantly googled “How to keep snakes out of barn” and up popped the suggestion of pouring a mixture of ammonia and vinegar around a building’s perimeter. Snakes also don’t care for vibrations, so within a half hour, still in my underwear but feeling victorious, not only did I bring out the tractor to idle for a half hour in front of the barn, but also poured a gallon of vinegar very slowly around each inch of the barn’s foundation and in front of each stall. I haven’t considered building any explosive devices, so didn’t have any ammonia on hand, but the odor of horse urine during the night should be pungent enough until I could get some.

I had to go back out three more times before midnight, just to check. And each time I made sure to carry an axe. Satisfied that all was safe, I returned to the house and on the way I looked into the woods and in my best Liam Neeson impression, hissed “Come near my horses again and I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”