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Snake eyes


Another suburban morning, family on the fly. Multitask schedule called out and negotiated from every room, soccer shorts lost and found, school-lunch menu debated, cereal selection voted down, dance outfit found and lost, e-mail and answering machine messages passed on or forgotten.

Then we find the snake.

Nothing like the real world to focus people's attention. For the past 20 years, whenever a snake invades our chicken coop looking for a morning feast of freshly laid eggs, that trumped everything. Short circuit in the hair dryer, milk supply exhausted, wrong shorts in the washer, lost hair ribbons--forget about it. First we gotta get the snake out of the coop. (We haven't yet encountered the conundrum of snake-in-coop vs. flat-tire/need-to-pick-up-the-carpool.)

When I appear with fresh water for "the girls," the chickens let me know something is up. Lots of clucking. At first I think they're just complaining about being out of water. But then I see what's upsetting them. Surprised by my appearance and curling ever so cautiously away from the nesting area, a 4-foot black snake is making her getaway through an opening in the pine slats close to the coop's tin roof.

Back in the house, responding to my call for help, my older daughter comes down the stairs. Having recently discovered Alfred Hitchcock's techniques for provoking dramatic tension, she announces loudly, "If someone comes into my room with a snake to wake me up, I'll kill them." My younger daughter grabs her sneakers and runs outside looking for a box to put the snake in so she can take it to school.

Catching a snake after it has picked up the day's delivery of eggs is easy. Those lumps in its belly slow it down. This empty-bellied snake, however, tested our teamwork as it moved in and out of the coop along the eaves, three feet over our heads. We finally lassoed the intruder with our homemade snake stick and, deciding it was too big for show-and-tell, marched it smartly down the path and released it on the other side of the creek.

Our adventure with nature over, we gulped our breakfast and hit the road to town, school and work.

Out in the garden a few days later, we were mounding up hills for melons and squash when out popped a 5-inch baby snake. Grabbing it before it could wriggle under the fence, my daughter turned and asked, "Do you think she was looking for her mother?"

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