Thursday, May 19, 2016


Photo by Erika Lax

Spent the weekend on the island, where, lo and behold, I caught some snakes! (More like I bent over and picked them up, actually; it didn't take too much effort, even had Erika's dad point out a few, hiding under a disused gutter on their property). Found a snakeskin, too - a nice long one, maybe of the snake pictured above, but perhaps of a different one, it's hard to tell.

Understand: I used to love catching snakes in the 1970's and early 1980's in Maple Ridge, when, as a kid, I would find them all around the schoolyard, and in neighbour's yards and such; there was also a small frog pond filled with tree frogs just a couple of blocks from our condo, and a wooded area a short walk away where turning over rotten logs would net you small pinkish salamanders. Most of those areas are bland suburban townhouse developments now; it's been 20 years or more since I last saw a snake on the mainland, let alone smelled their  pungent defensive scent on my fingers - one of those few smells, as distinctive as the ink in Crass records, that vividly connect me with memories of my youth...

Though some kids at school thought me weird, others would happily join me in my snake catching excursions, so they became a sort of social occasion. We would turn over boards or chase wriggling figures through the long grass, feeling a fairly primal rush of excitement (a sublimated form of predation, I guess). I often brought bags or buckets full of these sorts of creatures home, sometimes to my Mom's dismay. There was a particularly traumatising episode, for all parties concerned, where she was going up the stairs and the snake was coming down, and she ended up sweeping it out the door with a broom, terrified (she scolded me abundantly afterwards, and from then on I had to keep my snakes in the patio area. These are all harmless garter snakes we're talking about, mind you - like the ones pictured; even if they bite you, their teeth are tiny and not too painful. The snakes themselves usually weren't that big, eitehr, although the Puget Sound Red Spotted ones, which you do see here from time to time, can get up to over a meter in length. They're recognizable for vivid yellow stripes with red flecks between. I caught a particularly big one of those, swimming in a pond off Laity Street, which I kept in a garbage can until it either was stolen by another kid, or else escaped).

These animals were as much pets as my childhood dog, though I only kept them for awhile before releasing them - more to their annoyance than harm, though I daresay I saved a few frog eggs from being eaten by hatching them in my fishtank and releasing them after they were well on their way from tadpole to frog. Whatever you want to blame for their relative absence from the suburbs these days, I was only a tiny part of the problem!

In any event, catching frogs and snakes and such was, for me, my first venture into "collecting weird stuff," which later would lead to my enthusiasm for hunting out odd music and movies, so it IS a part of my identity. Hell, I remember theorizing, when forced to jog laps, on cold mornings, with the other kids around the school playground, that I might have been a reptile myself, since I was pretty slow moving in the chill air...

Anyhow, it's nice to see that there are still plentiful snakes in some parts of BC, even if Maple Ridge is more or less devoid of them (to say nothing of Burnaby, where I'm presently writing from). Probably won't see another snake til I'm back on the island. But I can wait - my snake batteries are now fully charged.

By the way, Sssssss, one of the best-ever human-to-snake transformation movies (along with Jennifer Lynch's Bollywood-made Hisss and the Hammer horror film The Reptile) is coming out on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory! Snakes do appear to get harmed in the making of the film, alas, but it's still pretty enjoyable, if you can overlook that fact. Who could ever harm something as lovely as a snake?

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