On a daily basis I check the chickens.
They live in a small 4 x 4 coop with an attached wire run off the side of the shed. Most days they spend sunning themselves on their perches or rolling in the dirt to rid themselves of parasites. Right now I have about five full grown chickens and a bunch of babies. Only four of the chicks were actually hatched by the hen that laid them. The rest of them were incubator babies.
The peepers that hatched in the coop are being raised by momma and I worry about their progress. They are pretty well protected in the coop, but there are always things that can get at them, including the other chickens. I went to pick up the eggs yesterday. I usually get one or two a day, which is just the right amount for our family, but today there were no eggs.
I opened up the side compartment. Inside there are two small nest boxes. Perches line one wall, and the whole area smells faintly of hay and chicken guano. To be honest, it smells like my grandmothers farm.
I pull the door aside, and the dusty interior of the coop is filled with the mid day sun. ‘I need to clean out this house.’ I think to myself.
That’s when I saw it. It was black and slick and coiled up in one of the chickens nest boxes. A black snake. Crap.
I walk back to the shed a retrieve a garden glove. Generally, black snakes are pretty docile, but you never know what you are going to find. I reach my hand inside the box and start pulling. The thin tail stretches out of the box, and I can feel the muscles of the snake contract in my palm as it tries to pull away. I reach in with my other ungloved hand, trying to keep the snake from getting tangled up in the structure of the nest box.
Foot by foot it pulls out until five feet of snake stretch between my hands and the chicken coop. I slide my hands forward and untangle the head from the uprights of the nest box. I extract the snake the rest of the way out, feeling the lump in its midsection, which I assume is the egg that it has already eaten. The snake is docile, harmless. He lets me handle him like he’s been a pet his whole life.
My wife’s mantra is the only good snake is a dead snake. I don’t agree. The boys and I have a program for visiting snakes. They can come and live in our garage for a time, and then we let them go again. This snake was a prime candidate. I placed him in an aquarium where we could observe him.
Then I took him to school to show the students.
We spent the day talking about snakes, their habitats, and how they are good for the environment. The children touched and stroked this perfectly mild mannered serpent. I hope I made an impression on some of their little minds.
On the way home, I let him go.
He was no worse for wear, but he ended up doing a lot of good.