Today's post is a story written long ago for my children, and resurrected today for reasons you can read about on Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, a blog written by 25 nonfiction authors, including me. An interesting situation arose in my barn office this morning, precipitating a change in the topic of my I.N.K. blog, and leading me to give my old park ranger friend Noonie a jingle. In my mind, she's an expert on snakes. In her mind, I'm sort of an idiot about snakes. Well, you can decide for yourself. I hope you'll check out both stories.
GOOD LITTLE SNAKES
Aunt Noon was here, sleeping in the barn. It was June, hot out, and she opened the door to let the air through, and pinned up some sheets to make a mosquito net. It looked like something from Aladdin. That was Noon, always making something.
It's why she was here, actually; she was making things. She was going to paint a picture for Uncle DB and Aunty Anne. They had a picture she had painted once, of a cat in the snow in the moonlight near a barn. They had asked her to paint it, even though they had just imagined the scene; they hadn't had a real place in mind.
This time the did have a real place in mind. The second painting was to show the place where Yogi went swimming. That's what they had asked for. We all agreed it was the most beautiful place, by the reservoir under the reservoir under the pine trees that the owls lived in, with a steep slope down to the water. Years later, when we walked there with Rosie, after Yogi died, we could still see Yogi in our mind's eye, lumbering down the hill to wade into the water, and we'd remember stopping to rest a minute here near the end of the walk, breathing hard, our hands on our hips, watching for the moment when Yogi walked deep enough into the water to suddenly start floating. The look on his face was what we loved -- he looked so relaxed and happy.
We kids had to go to school and Mom and Dad had to work, so we gave Noon directions so she could walk through the woods to get to the place where Yogi went swimming. Just to be sure, Yogi went along with her. She had her camera so she could take pictures of him, too. He saw going to be a swimming model dog.
When we all came back, there was no sign of Aunt Noon or Yogi. But this was what was on the dining room table: a cat food jug, made of white plastic. On the outside, in Sharpie, snakes and grass had been drawn along with messages:
We all watched each other see it. Nobody went near. What would YOU do with a cat food jug that said it had snakes inside: rush over and open it?
Mom unscrewed the lid, to prove to us kids that you shouldn't be freaked out by such things: plus, just in case the snakes came sizzling out of there like rockets, she wanted to be the one to get attacked, not us. (Sam says, "How heroic of you, Mom." But it is true! She's the one who bravely opened it!)
The snakes did not attack. They lay in a relaxed way along the bottom of the jug, fitting into the little grooves at the corners. There was some grass in there that Aunt Noon had added for the comfort of the snakes, and they were exactly the color of the grass.
There were holes in the lid of the jug, but it was pretty hot out, and we wondered if the snakes feeling a little bit limp from the heat.
"Leave the lid off," someone suggested. At least that's what Mom said happened afterward. She doesn't exactly remember WHO said it, and Bethany says that's because nobody actually suggested it to her; she suggested it herself, then tried to blame us for what happened afterward. "Way to pass the buck, Mom," said Emily.
She's the one who left the lid off. Those little snakes couldn't possibly climb up the sides of the slick plastic jug, that's what we thought. (We say it was Mom who thought it, not us.) She left the whole thing on the piano, where it was out of the sun. We all wandered away after a few checking sort of looks inside -- fewer from Bethany than from anyone else.
So guess what, big surprise, Aunt Noon came home all gaga and excited. "Did you find the wonderful snakes I left for you?"
"Yes," we said from the living room and kitchen and upstairs. "They're on the piano," we added. Nobody but the snakes was still in the dining room.
There was a second while Noon looked around. "With the lid off?" she said.
"There's only one in here," said Aunt Noon. "Has somebody got the other one?"
"As if," said Emily from the living room.
"I left the lid off," said Mom from the kitchen. "It's so hot. They couldn't climb out, could they?"
"Well, I think they might have," said Noon.
In we came, but not all the way in, from the living room and kitchen and upstairs. We stood near the dining room doorway and stuck out necks in. "Where could it have gone?" we asked.
"You have to think like a snake," said Noon. "You're in a big, bright, bare place. You like to be in a dark, protected place. What would be a cozy nook if you were a snake?"
"Oh!" Mom sighed, or whined, or almost moaned. It was a combination of sounds. We all looked at the piano. We had all seen it opened up and taken apart; Lenny the piano tuna had been here only a couple of weeks ago. We all knew the piano had more cozy nooks than you could count. At least there weren't snakes in all the cozy nooks, just one. But which one?
Oh, how gingerly and jittery we felt as we lifted the lid to the keys, but a glance showed no garter snake curled up on the keys. Darker and cozier nooks, then. We peered behind the music prop, where a velvet-lined groove would have made a good snake bed. Nope, no snake.
With dread we lifted the lid that led to the inner workings, the strings and hammers where a snake really could disappear forever. It wasn't reassuring not to see a snake there, not one bit reassuring, since the snake could so easily be hiding and might never be found until the next time Lenny came back to tune the piano. Poor Lenny! And what would the snake eat and do in the meantime?
"It could die in there," said Sam.
"Of starvation?" asked Emily.
"Or suffocation?" asked Bethany.
Hmm. Aunt Noon said, "Is the piano on wheels?" The piano was on wheels, so we all muscled in and pushed it out from the wall, letting Noon be the one to look behind it and see if a little green snake would be uncovered.
"One more foot," said Noon. We pushed again.
"Aww," said Noon. "Will you look at that?"
There, curled in the space at the back of the piano, down near the floor -- as dark and cozy a nook as it had been able to find -- was the little green garter snake.
"Poor baby," said Noon.
We all took a step back as she reached in to lift it out.
"Ouch!" said Noon. "He's chomping me!"
That was for sure. The snake's jaws were wide open, clamped on her thumb. That's how little its head was.
"Doesn't it hurt?" asked Emily.
"That little mouth?" said Noon. "Silly, he thinks he can swallow me." That was a laugh!
"Not poisonous?" asked Sam.
"Garter snakes are harmless," said wise Bethany, but she was standing the farthest away, and her eyes were the biggest.
"Stop doing that," Noon told the snake.
"Can't you shake him off?" asked Sam.
"If I hold still, he might think I'm dead and let go," said Noon. "If I shake he'll keep trying to eat me."
This was the way it was with our Aunt Noon. She said the most outstanding things!
"Who wants to come with me to take them back to the woods?" asked Noon.
We all went along with her, except Dad. "I will trust the rest of you to do it," said Dad.
Noon cradled the snakes together in her hands, letting them wrap around her wrists like Mom's silver bracelets. When we got to the place where Yogi swam, Noon bent down and let the snakes go in the grass. Bethany held Yogi's collar so he wouldn't get involved.
"They were mating when I found them," said Noon.
"Ew," said Bethany. "How do you know?"
"All the grass was waving. That's how I knew somebody was there. All that motion!" If you found snakes mating with lots of motion, would you pick them up and take them home? We wouldn't either. But that's Aunt Noon for you.
"You carried them all the way back from from here?" asked Emily.
"Sure!" said Aunt Noon.
"What did Yogi say about it?" asked Sam.
"Oh, he was all for it," said Noon. "He knew you all needed to see some good little snakes."
"Dad didn't need to see them, " said Bethany. "Neither did I, really."
"Well, there are some people who can't take snakes," said Noon coolly.
"Not us," we all said, even Bethany.
And here's a picture of Noon herself, in one of her natural habitats: