My, my, the things you see when you’re gardening. Today, I got up early to trim the bonsai trees, which were terribly overgrown and not showing well at all. While trimming happily away, I noticed this elegant creature slithering over the front porch. At first, it was shy, and went under the stoop when it saw me watching it, but it soon came out and began trying to figure out how to climb up to my beloved Carolina wren nest in the bucket under the eave. Once again, I saw a terrific opportunity to learn something about snake intelligence, and to find out once and for all if the bucket nest is as safe as I’ve always thought it would be. So I settled back to watch.
First, the snake (a newly molted black rat) worked its way up the bonsai bench, which stands near the gutter. In this photo, you can just see the gutter off the right edge of the picture. And you can see what bonsai maples are supposed to look like, when they've just been trimmed... At the top of the gutter is the bucket where our beloved Carolina wrens are currently laying a second clutch of eggs (their babies, documented earlier, are popping all over the yard, and feeding themselves now).
The snake wound through the branches of my tallest bonsai, and got an impressive distance up the kitchen window. Always orienting toward the nest, it was obviously looking for the highest point it could attain. At this point, I was thinking it would give up. Then it turned and looked directly at me, and glided over, seemingly wondering if I might be climbable. If I were the anthropomorphic type, I’d say it was asking for an assist. I held out my hand, palm down, and it briefly considered climbing aboard, then thought better of it. The intelligence in its eyes was palpable. After all, it had noticed the nesting material protruding from the bucket ten feet over its head, put two and two together, and set about reaching its goal. Once again, I reflected that wild creatures do nothing without good reason.
It descended and began examining the bottom of the gutter. Uh-oh. Here, I have no pictures, because I was too busy doing damage control... An aha! moment—it began to loop itself into the narrow space between the gutter and the foyer window, and up and up it went. Whoops. That snake was going to get those Carolina wren eggs. Time to intervene. Apologizing to it, I gently worked it out of the crevice (not easy) and carried it to the middle of the lawn and laid it down. Like a good black rat snake, it lay there looking befuddled. With little time to lose, I went into the garage and rummaged around, bringing out two 24” lengths of aluminum stovepipe. I fit them around the gutter and stacked them to make a 48” baffle. But there was still enough room between the baffle and the window for the snake to work its way up. Rats. Nix the stovepipe.
And then I saw it—that 8’ long super heavy duty cardboard mailing tube that I hadn’t been able to throw away. I just thought it looked useful. And boy, was it. As if made for its job, it fit perfectly into the space between gutter and window. Checking and double checking, I saw a space between it and the house, so I put another aluminum pipe in behind it just to make darn sure there was no space a snake could navigate. And then I went, picked up my teacher, and brought it back to the front porch. It glided smoothly under the stoop. Thank you. You deserve to live here, just as much as the wrens do. But you’re not going to eat them, or my phoebes. Another good lesson from the narrow fellow in the grass.
Liam watched warily from behind the foyer window, but later he came out and blew bubbles over the snake as it lay sunning on the lawn. He's cool with snakes, as is Phoebe. In this, as in so many things, kids take their cues from their parents. He sees me calmly handling the animal, and he figures it's all right.
Chet Baker was sleeping inside during the whole event. The tube baffle in place. It's the brown unit between the gray downspout and Chet. How slick is that?
But he came to supervise, and approved this elegant solution to a wriggly problem. I am proud of my cardboard tube baffle, oh yes I am. Having a garage full of crap comes in real handy sometimes.