“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” my brother whispered. “But there’s a snake in the basement.”
We ducked into the garage, and he showed me a picture he had taken underneath my mom’s kitchen. It was hard to make out, but if you zoomed in, there it was: a dark snake with light stripes as long as my leg. I’m the kind of person who checks their shoes to make sure there aren’t snakes in them, even when there isn’t a snake in the house, so finding out there was one beneath us, was petrifying. I thought of how many times our three-year-old and six-year-old had traveled through the basement of our duplex to get to my mom’s house, which was on the other side.
“I checked for a rattle,” my brother told me. “I think it’s just a milk snake.”
I googled milk snakes, and they’re “harmless.” I even read a story from a woman who found one in her basement and left it there to take care of rodents, exchanging pleasantries with it when she went down to do laundry. I take care of wasps, hornets, bats, and squirrels. I don’t do snakes.
I called three animal care places. No one answered. The town next to us has an animal control officer that regularly helps people remove snakes from their homes. “Are you scared of it?” she asked, like someone wondering why I wasn’t picking up a teddy bear. “I’m terrified,” I answered. She was sympathetic, but she could only take snakes out of basements in Dover. In Rollinsford, where we live, you can only get help with domestic animals.
I put out pleas for help online. My nephews offered. So did our grade school administrator in what was probably the most “above and beyond” moment I’ve personally witnessed. (Put me down as one of those people who will always vote to increase the salaries at RGS).
I stuffed a towel under the door that led to the basement and weighed my options. Then, my mom came home and offered to go get it. She talked about how pretty snake colors can be. It reminded me of Makayla, our six-year-old, saying the mouse caught in the mousetrap was cute. I will never understand animal people.
My mom went down, but she couldn’t find it. I tried to put it out of my mind. Kelsey, our three-year-old, sat down and asked if we could talk about snakes. “Sure,” I said, and gulped. She wanted to look at pictures. So, we looked at the picture from her uncle and compared it to snake pictures online to see if we could identify it. Picture after picture after picture. It’s possible it was a northern water snake. I suppressed my instinct to slam the laptop closed and tried to sound educational.
The next day, Katy and I agreed we had to go into the basement and see if we could find it. I read that milk snakes can lay 6-24 eggs during the summer, so this wasn’t something I wanted to put off. Katy, who’s Australian, is equally terrified of snakes, but with a bit more rationality. Her family grew up in an area where snakes could literally kill you, and her great uncle was one of the first known people to survive a tiger snake bite. A doctor in India came up with the treatment in the early days of the internet.
We put on long pants and tucked them into our hiking boots. I tucked a t-shirt and light jacket into my Carhartts. I asked Katy if she wanted goggles. “It’s not a basilisk,” she said, like someone who’s never stayed up all night reading Harry Potter. “She probably doesn’t even know what the word, ‘pipes’ means,” I thought.
Our basement is dark and damp with lots of wires drooping from the ceiling in coiled loops. We keep saying we should take out all the wires that are inactive, but it’s near the bottom of our project list.
My mom met us down there with four big glue boards she had purchased. The part of the basement under her kitchen is accessed by a short tunnel with a brick archway over it that looks like a good place to store a cask of amontillado. You can walk, but after you’re through the tunnel, there’s only a couple feet of standing room. Then, it becomes a crawl space where you literally have to shimmy on your belly. That’s where the snake had been. My wife, my mom, and I stood there with flashlights pointing in every direction. Nothing.
We debated where to put the glue boards, who would put them there, and whether it was acceptable to toss them or if we needed to actually crawl up. In the end, like Mathias the Warrior entering the den of Asmodeus, I volunteered to put the glue boards where my brother had seen the snake. I crawled up a little ways, tossed them, and positioned them with a short pipe my wife got from another part of the basement.
I wondered what I would do if I came face to face with the serpent. The only rational encounter I’ve seen between humans and a reptile was when I was teaching English in Ghana. It was an open air, concrete schoolhouse with maybe six rooms and a pitched roof. One day, all the kids started screaming because a little, green snake was slithering along the top of the walls. One of the older kids flicked it outside with a stick, and a dozen kids stoned it while a hundred more cheered. I still wonder what kind of snake it was.
Again, my mom loves snakes. When she brought the glue boards home, I said, “I thought you wanted a live trap, but nice job on the glue boards. Milk snakes aren’t endangered, so I guess it’s okay” (as if I would have any hesitation killing a Timber Rattlesnake that was in my basement).
“No, they ARE live traps,” she said. “You just cover it with oil when you’re ready to release it.” 🤢
So, here we are. The traps are laid, and we’re waiting expectantly. Is it gone forever? Did we trap a whole family of snakes? We don’t know. Tomorrow we'll check the basement.
Joel and Katy
UPDATE: We went down to check the traps, and it seems to be gone. 🤞