My friend Letitia Moffitt is either very brave, or I am very foolish. She rang my door bell this morning to pick up a handout.
“Oh, look, Daiva, there’s a big black snake right by your door,” she said casually.
She was about a foot away from it, staring as if she were watching a puppy.
“Call the snake people, call the snake people!” I screamed, hands up in the air.
“It’s just a snake,” my husband said. “Though it sure is a big mother fucker.”
Now, I’m not one of those helpless females who faints at the sight of nature’s uglier creations. I kept my eyes open all through Raiders of the Lost Ark. I once held some baby snakes at some weird petting zoo. True, I was probably drunk, which would have made the situation bearable (and which probably scared the shit out of the baby snakes.) But I also believe that snakes should stay where they belong, in some cozy and well-marked snake shelter far away from human habitation. They should not hover near the doorstops of respectable people like long-lost relatives.
I’ve already had one traumatizing snake encounter since moving to central Illinois. I was living in a rented house on Division Street and came home one night to find a small brown snake coiled up like a freshly laid dog turd in my garage. Marty was still living in Chicago and it was too late to call friends to come get me. I stayed up all night saying the rosary and typing “Charleston Illinois poisonous snakes” and “Central Illinois pythons” into Google.
The next morning the snake was gone. I called my landlady anyway, incensed that a snake had chosen my rental property for its new home. I thought she might take some money off my monthly rent, but she just ordered a worker to scatter moth balls around the perimeter of the house and garage. This did nothing to calm me down. Not only had a snake entered my sacred personal space, but now the moth balls marked me as a woman who attracted snakes.
At work I incessantly questioned my colleagues what they knew about snakes.
Chris Hanlon had the following reassuring words at hand: “Based on your description, Daiva, it’s probably a copperhead. Deadly.”
Richard Silvia, former plumber, explained: “You need to be careful they don’t get into your pipes. Once they’re in your pipes, they can get into your toilet bowl, your sink, your washing machine.”
“It’s especially problematic when they begin to mate,” Chris said.
“I think they like to lay their eggs in people’s shoes,” Richard added.
I’m a city girl born and bred, who knows little about the private lives of snakes. I believed Chris and Richard. It took good friend Fern Kory to straighten me out on the matter. She called her husband, Mike, who did research of his own. Apparently, there’s a kind of Snake Line in Illinois, and Charleston is quite a few miles north of it. (Of course, given global warming, snakes may very well cleverly migrate north.)
Perhaps my repulsion at snakes mingling with humans stems from the Lithuanian fable, Egle, Zalciu Karaliene (Egle, Queen of the Snakes.) Every Lithuanian knows this story, the moral of which can be summarized in one sentence: Snake/human intermarriage will come to no good. I write about this tale in my memoir, White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life. (Coming this October from University of Chicago Press, in case you’re one of the few people on the face of the earth to whom I haven’t advertised this fact.)
Many poems have been written about Egle, Queen of the Snakes. There’s an opera and a play, not to mention numerous art works. When Marty and I were in Lithuania recently, we posed next to the famous Egle statue in Palanga.
I decided to ask my alter-ego, Mighty Bear Woman, a pertinent snake question:
“Dear Mighty Bear Woman, have bears ever been known to eat snakes?”
I also had Marty do some snake research on the internet. He thinks our little visitor is a black ratsnake. That, or a deadly man-eating python.