Have you seen images of animals venturing into towns since the lockdown? Goats scampering around church grounds in Wales? A kangaroo bounding down the middle of an Adelaide street? They made me remember my own encounters.
When I moved from Australia to Canada, the first reaction from everyone was, “Oh, you’re from Australia —the snakes.” For me, I was, and still am more afraid of a bear or cougar. But what I never told those fearful Canadians was where I came upon snakes in Australia. On all my countless bush walks, I never once came across one. Thumping along a trail was enough to send any reptile slithering off. My first close up experience was in my own backyard.
I had a thirty metre gum tree chopped down when it began to die and had the wood stacked for my fireplace. One winter’s day, I went to remove wood and discovered a black and white body hidden beneath. I was on the phone in a flash to the snake rescue experts, but when I described the snake, they said it was only a python. “No need for us to come. The snake will eat mice in your yard for a few days and then move on to the next yard.” Really? I had to live with it for a few more days? When I inched towards the wood pile a week later, and sure enough, that silent creature had slid off, but that wasn’t the end of my snake adventures.
I worked at a school half way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast for several years. Because of the heat, classrooms were louvered from floor to ceiling and trees were planted all over the school grounds for shade — snake haven. One recess I headed to the staff room along a cement path and almost stepped on a snake— a poisonous green one. Next I went to the storeroom in my classroom one morning and found a snake inside.
I thought when I moved to Canada my snake adventures had ended. But I was wrong. After my students had constructed and painted papier-mâché masks, I applied a coat of lacquer after school, and lined them up in the hallway because of the toxic smell. Next morning I noticed an unmoving garter snake inside one of the masks. Was it alive? Was it dead from the fumes ? I called the janitor and we discovered it was very much alive. Perhaps it thought the shape on the inside of the mask was a perfect bed. I never did tell my students, but every time I passed the outside door opposite my classroom I wondered why it was built with a centimetre space between the two doors — plenty of room for another reptile to slink through.