When I headed down the driveway for my daily run Saturday, I came across a snake. Our neighborhood is rife with suburban wildlife, though most of it isn’t of the reptilian persuasion. Squirrels and rabbits and the occasional raccoon are not uncommon, and are generally kept in check by the hawks and the SUVs. I’ve seen a few tiny snakes smushed lifeless in the road. This one, however, was relatively gargantuan, measuring at least three feet in length and as thick as my pinkie, if my pinkie had polio.
More troubling still, I think he was alive.
He (I assume it was male because it was obviously lost) lay on the hot concrete, hardly noticing the monstrous jogger looming above. There was no movement I could detect, yet there were no obvious squish wounds to indicate he’d been injured. He appeared to be a healthy specimen, maybe just a little tired. The midday July sun will do that to you.
I called my family to come take a look. None of us are trained herpetologists, yet I thought we might be able to arrive at a consensus on his health as well as how cool it was to have a snake in our driveway.
“Poke it with a stick,” encouraged my son. I know next to nothing about snake first aid, but poking with a stick has to be near the top of the triage checklist.
I found a stick that seemed suitable. As I started the poking procedure, the snake opened his mouth. I don’t know whether he was yawning or saying “ahh” or threatening to bite me. Whatever it meant, it caused me to drop the stick and step back about two paces.
Now he surely must’ve realized there were humans nearby as he went into his slithering act so as to impress upon us how seriously he took his snakehood. He twisted into a couple of loops and inched slightly toward the edge of the driveway. I was hoping for a hiss or two but he apparently wasn’t in the mood.
“What do you think we should do?” I asked my wife, knowing how critical humanity is in managing the survival of every species except our own.
“He looks like he’s okay,” Beth said. “Maybe he’s just basking in the sun.”
Yeah, that’s right, I remember that from an old high school biology class. Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures, which means they have to get their body heat from their surroundings. Even though just down the hardtop from no less than three Hondas seemed a less-than-ideal place to bask, I was reluctant to interfere.
“I just want to make sure we don’t back over him,” I said, more concerned about the stain he’d leave behind than in preserving the natural world. “Let’s let him be, and I’ll check him again when I get back from my run.”
I thought a lot about the snake during the two-mile jog. Though man thinks nothing of clearing whole forests and destroying habitat after habitat, he’s suddenly stricken with concern when a deer is catapulted across the hood of his car, through the windshield and into his lap. Whether the snake was in some kind of distress or merely working on his tan was really none of our business. Mother Nature is a cruel but ultimately wise mistress, and we are foolish indeed if we think it’s our role to offer salvation to one of her straying children. If this snake were fated to die, that was his tough luck. If you’re interested in longevity, try being Zsa Zsa Gabor on your next pass through reincarnation.
When I returned from the run, the snake was still in about the same position but now it seemed pretty obvious he wasn’t doing too well. His head was raised slightly and his mouth was still open, yet it seemed more like rigor mortis than some sort of action pose. Sadly, I retrieved the stick (I know, I know — you’re not supposed to re-use medical supplies) and resumed some light poking. There was no reaction. I ramped up my treatment to include prodding and jabbing. Still no response. It was time now for extreme measures, so I kicked at him with my shoe. Nothing.
It was obvious he had passed.
I broke off a smaller branch from the stick and maneuvered it under his lifeless body. I somehow found the strength to raise him from the concrete and toss the corpse into a pile of leaves under a nearby bush. Perhaps not the most reverential of ceremonies, but it was hot as hell out there and I needed to get inside for a shower and dinner. “Taps” was not to be in the cards for this sad veteran of the animal kingdom’s never-ending war to survive. He was to die an unknown soldier, though we posthumously decided to name him Frank.
Now this is where the story gets a little creepy. I knew that the body would eventually biodegrade, providing nourishment for tinier less respectful creatures than I. I figured that would take at least several days, and could be carried out in relative privacy under the bush. It was nature’s way, and I didn’t need to interfere.
I was curious though how that process was working out for Frank when I went for my next-day run, so I snuck a peek at the gravesite. Frank was gone.
“Snake Jesus!” cried my son when I told him the news. “He has risen!”
“Calm down, calm down,” I chided. “He was probably picked up by a hawk.”
“Hawks don’t usually go for dead prey,” offered my wife helpfully. “You’re probably thinking of a vulture.”
“We don’t have vultures in this neighborhood,” I responded a bit stiffly. “They’re not allowed, according to the zoning covenants.”
“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” continued Daniel, until I told him to knock it off. Save your conversion miracle until you’re a little older and meet a nice Southern Baptist girl. Maybe she’ll be from one of those snake-handling sects.
So we’re not really sure what became of Frank. Maybe one of the local squirrels saw the opportunity to craft himself a nice leather jacket. Maybe a possum mistook him for a pasta dish.
Or maybe he wasn’t dead after all, and had slithered back into the underbrush to resume the rewarding life of the modern serpent. Frankly, that’s what I was hoping for.