The latest score, above, refers to an encounter with a Northern Copperhead the other evening. It slithered slowly across our driveway just a few feet from where I emerged from the garage to turn off the lawn and garden sprinklers before bed. I have had several encounters with this common and poisonous pit viper, the first, and the last ones quite peaceful and for my part, compassionate. We live in the country, a little south of town, and we see a lot of wildlife of all shapes and sizes out here. Birds of prey, wild turkey, red fox, black widow spiders, bullfrogs, though very few deer (heavily hunted, lots of venison in local freezers) are our wondrous neighbors.
My first encounter with Agkistrodon contortrix occurred one summer afternoon about two years ago, I saw a very large (>3′) Northern Copperhead crawling across my garage floor, toward the rear of my basement. Instead of feeling an urge to harm it, I “rescued” it on the end of a shovel, and carried it back into the woods behind the vacant lot next door. Why? I love and I am respectful to animals, and I am really in awe of nature and the natural world. I hated to kill it or hurt it, because, well I like living among other living things in their natural setting. Generally. But after much thought I decided that while we can have black snakes and garter snakes and other non-poisonous serpents, our dear animals, our cats and our dog, spend enough time in the backyard and around the property that we cannot risk a bite from a venomous snake that could take one of our babies from us.
So when I saw the snake last night, and identified it for what it was, a Northern Copperhead, and a large one — about 2′ and thick as my index finger — it took me only a second of regretful internal debate, but I knew what I had to do. The only weapon I had nearby (caught me unexpected to see him up on the driveway when I did) was a bag of golf clubs. I had to act quickly, as the serpent was slowly slithering toward the grass on the east side of the concrete driveway, so the chipping club it was — a shorter club with a 45 degree face, and the cheapest one in my bag that would do the trick. Very quick calculation, resolved to do the deed, I first had to retrieve him from the grass before he disappeared. I touched him with the club, attempting to halt his progress, and quick as a flash, he turned tail, and slithered out of the grass, back onto the driveway, headed back from whence he came. He was trying to escape, but ended up exactly where I could get a clear shot. Fatal instinct, as it turns out. Call this unfair, call this an ambush, call it cold-blooded, call it whatever you like. No, it posed no immediate threat to me or mine. In fact, per the Wiki, this snake is not particularly likely to bite except when directly threatened, and may even give a “dry bite” containing little or no venom as a warning. But the threat of a future, unexpected, and potentially less peaceful chance encounter with our pets was and is enough for me to know that sometimes man must dominate his local environment, and sometimes in ways that might otherwise be distasteful or even repugnant to him. And I am a fierce mama bear protecting my brood.
My first encounter with copperheads was at our last house. I had purchased a bunch of used windows at the local Disabled American Veterans thrift store, intending to use them in the construction of my first greenhouse. We ended up going in a different direction with the greenhouse, and decided after two years, the windows had to go. It seems it was a warm day in June when I began to remove the windows from the backyard to go back to the thrift store to be donated again when I noticed a small knot of baby snakes curled up under and in between a couple of the windows. I had not seen a copperhead before, so was unsure of their identity when I bent closer to get a good look. I noticed a diamond pattern on the back of slender khaki brown and tan body, and a distinctive copper-penny colored patch on top of the head. Suddenly exposed, the snakes were fleeing now, disappearing into the grass. I was able to grab a flowerpot and carefully snag one of the snakes, and he coiled up in the bottom of the pot as I held it carefully away. I grabbed a long blade of grass near the fence and gently moved the tip toward the snake to see what it would do, and it reared back and struck quickly at the intruding object. I imagine it was royally pissed, having been awakened and now threatened. I walked it back to the woods, and eased him out of the pot by turning it over slowly just above the ground. It disappeared into the brush without turning to face me again. A peaceful encounter, followed by a peaceful encounter, followed by a deadly encounter.
As to our most recently deceased viper: mr. viper, my apologies for my crude behavior at our meeting. However, I am glad you did not have the opportunity to bite me or one of my pets. Your kin will not be welcome here, please stay away.
Kisses – KM