The Threat There Never Was
by Jack Beuttell -- October 2nd, 2012
re. communes, venomous snakes, and an ethical dilemma
It was early morning Sunday and there was a sudden commotion in the house. Nathan, whose parents own the home in which we live, was walking hurriedly through the kitchen, headed to the garden where one of our guests had spotted a snake. His brow was wrinkled, so the rest of us followed.
Sure enough it was a copperhead, one of North Carolina’s venomous snakes, about two feet and change, and he was caught in the filament chicken wire that keeps the birds from the basil. He was pretty well tangled, so I approached to assess the situation. My first reaction was to fetch a blade from the kitchen and end this quickly. Nathan stood quietly with squinty eyes.
There are five of us that live on the property we fondly refer to as the hippie commune: a carpenter, a yoga instructor, two musicians, and me. It’s wonderful. The house sits on the trailing edge of a small ridge, above a hardwood forest that has grown up through the furrows of a centuries-old tobacco field. We have a little less than 40 acres, most of which is wooded, but adjacent to the home is a small garden with seasonal vegetables, a mildly productive orchard, and a chicken coop, which houses 13 hens and three roosters.
Just the day before there were several small children on the property, Nathan’s nieces and nephews, who spent the afternoon playing with our three dogs and two cats in the yard. So when I saw the snake I didn’t think twice about what needed to be done. It was only one, small snake. But this was Nathan’s house and his garden, so I deferred. Nathan held the snake’s head down with a stick, clipping him free with a pair of scissors, and somehow managed to get him into a bucket, which he carried deep into the woods for release.
A couple of days later I asked him about his decision to spare the copperhead. He said that, in his 20 years on the property he had seen plenty of snakes, but neither he nor anyone else had ever been harmed by one. Plus, he felt pity on the poor creature because he was helplessly tangled in the fencing.
This whole episode amused me. After all, I’m the housemate that is studying the environment and should, on the surface, be the ardent advocate of ecology. Nathan, on the other hand, owns two of our dogs and is the proud uncle of all the little Huck Finns that run around the property, so he should have been the advocate for extinguishing the snake.
The irony was my admonition, and it was deserved especially in light of the blog I wrote about killing the things we love. True, it was just one small snake, but I am also just one small man. And if all of my neighbors killed all of their snakes, then we know what to expect.