Snakes on a plain

Summer time in South Africa is a glorious thing. Particularly for those of us who are blessed enough to live in the garden route area, and most especially for those of us in Knysna.

We have so much at our fingertips. With both the beach and the forest just a short drive away we are spoilt for choice. We have this beautiful lagoon on our doorsteps and really most of the population of the country work their whole year to be able to spend their annual three week vacation here in Summer time while we have it every day. 


I usually feel particularly blessed in summer because my funny little house is just five minutes’ drive from town, and yet it’s like it’s in the wild. We are surrounded by green trees and bush. We have birds, bees, baboons, bush pig, wild cat, lynx and various buck roaming freely around our gardens at night. And of course what paradise would be complete without a few snakes?


Or more than a few. In my house, for example.


When I first moved in here I had two visitations from my least favourite reptiles. Fair enough, the house had been standing empty for a while and was fairly over grown.  But I have been in here for two years now, and three summers, and I was rather hoping that the wild life had registered that this is people territory. People who do not love snakes. In fact this particular person has a horrific and morbid terror of scaly, venomous, limbless reptiles that can administer death to unsuspecting adults and children alike in a matter of mere seconds, just because you happen to step in the wrong place. I am so not a snake person. I was brought up in a farming area where we were taught from a young age that stepping on a snake equalled death and deformation, and as a result I have been horrifically scared of them for as long as I can remember.


So having three snake visits in the last four days has not exactly been my idea of fun. The first was two days before Christmas. I sat down on the back step with my friend who is staying for the holidays and our cups of coffee and I noticed that there was a long, black shape up on the ledge above the outside couch where we usually sit.  I was still trying to decide whether it was a snake or not when I noticed its beady little eyes staring right at me.  I sent my kids screaming over to the old man next door who came over with a pokey thing on a long stick and a bucket. Needless to say he did little more than startle the boomslang with that lot and I watched in horror as it dropped to the ground and slithered its scaly body into my tiny laundry room. It decided to head out through the hole where the outlet pipe Is for the washing machine. I ran to watch it reappear on the outside but alas even though it was cramming its horrible long black body into the hole on the inside it was somehow defying the laws of physics and not coming out on the other side. When it was completely gone we took a torch light to the hole and discovered to my absolute delight (not) that the walls of my ancient house are a Swiss cheese of holes on the inside.  I was beside myself. Here I am trying to raise two children in a house that has my worst nightmare now inside the walls. I was in tears. Eventually I was calmed a little by the neighbours telling me that it was scared off now and wouldn’t come back. I still have no idea whether that one has moved on or not.


After a day I was still wary but almost calm. Almost, but actually not all. I have two children. My little boy is three years old! I have my friend visiting with her four year old. There is a snake on the loose with three children in the house! But I was almost calm. Until on Christmas day, mid-morning, I was busy inspecting my pores in the bathroom mirror when I heard my daughter speak the dreaded words,

“Mom, snake!”


This time a smaller, greener boomslang. This time above the back door, on the inside of the house. Almost directly above where I had been napping with my three year old son on another couch just a half hour before.  Again with the eyes! This little slithery death machine was staring me right in the eyes. It did a duck into the wood work. The kids summoned my old step dad from next door again and it was like de-ja-vu, only this time I knew how easily we could just loose the thing. So when it ducked into the skirting I hooked it with a snake hook and ripped it right off. But the snake managed to find a wall hole to duck into. I couldn’t believe it! Another snake in my house. By this time the kids were safely watching TV next door while my friend and I contemplated what the fuck to do next. Old step dad went home. I am standing there and all I can think is “fuck, I want to move out, right now!” but moving out was not an option and so we did the only sensible thing we could do… we had a coffee and shared a cigarette (neither of us are really smokers). Looking back into the door after our cups were empty we noticed old snaky was venturing from the wall to a nearby roof beam. Well there was nothing to do but act. I was holding the snake hook and I hooked it off onto the floor without knowing what the hell I would do next. When it started moving into the house I was like “not a fuck” and I managed to pull it (yes, towards myself) out of the door and chase it down the steps and into the garden.


Well it was terrifying but at least I could bring the kids home knowing that it was no longer in my house. Once again I was reassured by all and sundry that the snake would be terrified by the incident and probably never return. Well they were wrong. Today (Boxing Day) I was outside surveying my window boxes when my friend called to me that a snake was trying to get into the kitchen. Well I couldn’t fucking believe it, but there it was, trying to get from the wisteria into the window above the sink. We scared it off but from what I could see it was heading onto the roof. Well I decided two things in that moment: 1. In spite of what people might think I am not a hippy who values all life. 2. I had had enough of this bullshit. Snake shit. Whatever. Enough. So I jumped into my gumboots, grabbed the snake hook and my trusty ladies lasher spade and went out after it. To my surprise it was easy to track down. It was still in the Wisteria and not on the roof after all. By this time my neighbour was there seeing what the fuss was about and he was brave enough to help me to  worry it a bit lower with a long stick. The moment it was close enough i hooked it onto the floor and then slammed with all my might as I hacked it in half with the spade. It all happened in about a minute.


I am pretty certain that the snake I killed was the same one that I scared out the day before, though I could be mistaken. How did it feel? Terrifying. Am I proud to be running around killing wild animals? Not at all. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Why? Because a single bite could kill one of my children.


I have always been so scared of snakes. As a single mom I have had to learn to deal with a lot of things on my own, but the one thing I maintained I would never be able to do alone, would always need a man for, was dealing with snakes. They were the thing that froze me with fear. The thing that my worst nightmares are made of. My nemesis.

No it is not some Freudian fear of penises or men, I just hate snakes.


Now that I have faced my biggest mortal fear and survived, I feel that even though the world is a scary place at times, I can actually handle a lot more than I ever thought possible. I don’t feel quite so afraid anymore. I am still scared of snakes, but no longer paralyzed with fear.  And I really know that I don’t always need to call for a man to save me, sometimes I can save myself.


Oh, and I also really know that it might be a great idea to get a gardener in occasionally to cut back that Wisteria.


(Since first writing this piece I had yet another snake in my home, It survived mainly due to the guilt I still feel for killing the previous one, and partially because it was a lot quicker than me)




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