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Wildlife in the Mudroom

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

A summer afternoon near Lake Champlain, the house shut tight against the smoke (O Canada!). I go to investigate a commotion in the mudroom and find the cat Telemann disporting himself with a snake. She is an elegant little Eastern Garter Snake, her dark brown bodysuit enhanced by three yellow longitudinal stripes. What can have made her leave the reptile-friendly outdoor heat in favor of our cool, dark interior? Telemann, our indoor cat, has been deprived of even the sight of birds since we had to take down the feeders because of a visiting bear. Now he is having more fun than he’s had since he caught and ate a mouse three years ago. The snake, not so much. She—I  think her female because of her little head and soignée aspect—is behaving exactly like a cat toy, frantically describing s-curves that whip Telemann into a frenzy.

I stand there, paralyzed by a cascade of urgent, mutually exclusive imperatives, as follows:

Must save the snake!

But the cat is loving this. How can I deprive him? Why not let Nature take its course?

But I can’t stand by and watch this innocent creature be tortured!

Which is the more deserving, the cat of his fun or the snake of her life?

Even if I can get her away from Telemann, she will probably die of shock….

Maybe the morally right thing is for me to end her suffering and kill her right now. But how???

Meanwhile the cat, sensing my intentions vis-à-vis his snake, picks her up in his mouth and runs into the living room, with me in pursuit. Hoping for more games, he opens his jaws, the snake falls out, and I lunge and grab her. But so does Telemann, and there we are for one appalling moment, playing tug of war with the poor snake.

Not a good solution!

Unkind both to snake AND cat!

Must take action before things disintegrate further!

I release my grasp and resume dithering. Meanwhile the snake, debilitated by my efforts on her behalf, slows down her wriggling, but comes furiously back to life, even attempting a strike in my direction, when I grab her again. Idiot! I berate myself. She probably thinks my fingers are the talons of a hawk. I’m wasting precious minutes, and the situation is not improving.

By now the exhausted snake is lying on the rug, all but inert. And the cat, as soon as she stops moving, stops his play: their deadly minuet is over. Taking advantage of the pause I dash into the kitchen, grab a paper towel, dash back into the living room and, wrapping the towel around the snake, pick her up and run to the back door. (Why I assume that the feel of a paper towel will be less upsetting to the snake than my bare fingers I have no idea.)

But there is a bright red blood spot on the towel, which sets off another mental cascade:

OMG she’s wounded!

Should I check her for injuries?

If I do, and the damage is severe, will I have to kill her? And if so, how?

If, on the other hand, she’s not badly injured, will I traumatize her further by examining her?

If I were the snake, what would I prefer?

By this point, I am standing in the knee-high grass of the backyard (knee-high because we are saving  the planet by not mowing through the summer months) and while my mind spins uselessly, my fingers open all on their own and release the snake, who vanishes instantly, way faster than any puff of smoke, her stripes blending perfectly with the long grass.

And that’s the last I see of Telemann’s snake. I hope that she has a strong immune system and her wounds, both physical and emotional, heal quickly. But failing that, I hope that the universe quickly sends over an owl or a fox or a hawk who will put her out of her misery way more efficiently than I ever could.

Back in the house I find Telemann on his back, all four white paws in the air, worn out from the excitement, but with a smug look on his face.





10 Responses

  1. Otters and minks both happen in England, but the otters are considered good, and the minks, bad.

    Neither the otter mom nor the mink mom know anything about all this – they’re both trying to feed and care for the pups they delivered this season after some male impregnated them!

    And then probably disappeared.

    It is so human-oriented – and so wrong somehow.

    You CAN’T do ‘the right thing’ for all of them.

  2. You tell fascinating stories of life. As I read your tale of Telemann, snake and Lali my mind played a video of the whole interaction and of your kindness and care for all of creation.

  3. Not mowing may help the pollinators, but knee high grass brings critters closer to your door, hence the snake in your mud room. Yikes!

  4. I would have gone through the exact same agonizing as you did, given this situation, Lali! Seems to me you got it just right – Telemann had fun and the snake’s life was spared!

    1. I went out and got Telemann a “cat dancer” (piece of wire with bits of cardboard attached at one end) to make up for the loss of the snake. He loves it dearly.

  5. Lali, I LOVED your written version of the cat/snake story you had told us at lunch with gestures and laughter and real emotion/concern! What to DO! I also loved the responses you got. They were so true– about your caring self! And the drawing was great as always. I’ll bet that little snake survived and learned a lesson– to stay out of houses!

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