Into the Garden: of Eden

Really. I'm just a garden hose. Pick me up.
Really. I'm just a garden hose. Pick me up.

Just inside the garden gate coiled the hose that’s connected to the well. And coiled inside the hose was something else.

I did a double take, not so much at seeing a fatbodied snake but because at first glance, the brown water snake’s pattern elicits the Oh Crap alarm the same as a Copperhead.

But the broken bands are obvious when you get close enough to look (most folks get no closer than the length of a garden hoe and only look more closely when a needless reflex has made the world safe from snakedom.)

I thought the first time that I had found Waldo just passing through on his way somewhere else. But since that first startle, there have been others. He hangs out in the garden, a new element to our fenced ecosystem, and I don’t know anything but the predator part of the feeding chain.

What do you suppose he’s after? Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been near the edge where there is extra mulch and the mulch holds a pretty nice population of night crawlers. And there have been chipmunks, but I don’t see them lately. Hmmm. But then again, I notice him at the edges because when he’s just a foot from my foot, there are tomato vines and climbing beans so that I can’t see him in the shade.

Worse case scenario: the sudden startle seeing eyes just behind the lowest tomato I am about to pluck. Guess I’d best not carry a hoe. I’d be happy to have Waldo around but wish, like I fantasize for the cucumbers and beans, that he was bright blue so I could locate him more easily among the vines.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I startled thinking it was a copperhead. Maybe your friend is eating moles and voles, one could hope. I saw a lot of snakes last year but this year, very few so far. I always worry about that snoozing one in the beans I’m picking.

  2. Fred,
    First thing you look for is THE SHAPE OF THE HEAD. If it’s the same size as the neck, he’s harmless. If the head is diamond shaped and the jaws stick out past the sides of the neck,

  3. Judging by the dull sheen of the skin, Waldo looks like he/she is about to molt. A brown water snake will go find a safe spot in some vegetation when it’s time to molt, and maybe the mulch is a perfect abrasive for the snake to work off the skin.

  4. Fatbodied indeed…looks to be a healthy specimen. Your gardens do seem so inviting. Go ahead, be another crocodile hunter and snatch him up!…LOL. Then you could get some more really cool pix (love your pix, by the way). Oh well, maybe next time.

  5. I like your Waldo, I’d happily co-exist with him, but then I once sacrificed an entire harvest of broccoli to the caterpillars who I found feeding on it, much to the disgust of my French neighbours.