Thursday, August 11, 2011

Serpent in the garden

When I pulled up to Holly Grove and got out of my truck today, I heard a ruckus high in the old cedar tree that stands rather forlornly by the walk. The cedar is a very old tree, the last of a line that was probably planted in the 19th century, and it shows its age. Hurricane Katrina took out its top, and it is riddled with crevasses from which poison ivy vines grow, high above ground, and tiny, open portals to its rotten heart, into and out of which traipse giant carpenter ants, anoles, blue-tailed skinks and a large and rather obscene-looking species of lizard whose name I do not know.

Warblers nest in the Spanish moss that adorns the tree, and at dusk it murmurs with cicadas and sings with tree frogs. It’s full of life. But it is not a tree that is prone to any sort of ruckus, other than that imposed by hurricanes. So when I heard the noise I glanced toward the source, and was surprised to see a very large – perhaps five feet long – green and yellow snake falling, head over tail, from the high branches, bouncing off a couple of palmettos before hitting the ground behind the picket fence with a very loud whump. It then promptly disappeared into the vinca.

I’ve seen snakes fall out of trees before, as I have squirrels, sometimes from great heights. But what was most remarkable in this case was that as the snake was cartwheeling toward the ground, it was being pursued by a fox squirrel. It was a mid-sized squirrel, so it’s hard to imagine that the snake had been attempting to make a meal of it. That being the case, why might the snake have been in the tree, harassing it? And why, whatever the reason for the harassment, did the squirrel choose to pursue the hapless serpent?

I assume that I had interrupted whatever was going down. After the snake disappeared into the vinca, the squirrel ran round and round the trunk, peering into its crevasses as if looking for something, meanwhile glancing at me. I have no idea what was going on, but I veered wide from the vinca on my way into the house.

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