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To catch a snake

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We stopped getting eggs that week of 100 degrees. I figured it was just too hot; the times called for survival, not scrambled.

I had a dozen distractions anyway, which I don't really mind. They point the way sometimes to what should be at the top of the hit list. It felt like the old homestead had entered the Bermuda Triangle.

No one was sleeping well. I caught two black snakes in the chicken coop; my wife encountered a pair of copperheads close to the house. Squirrels were eating our ripe tomatoes and our old cat left on a walkabout. My truck developed electro-cardiac failure twice, shutting off at 40 mph in the passing lane on the way to work, and two skylights over the garage sprung leaks.

I was befriended by a fearless baby bunny with spiritual powers on my morning walk. Soon after, a family of wild turkeys crossed the road single file. Signs in nature to be noticed. Our oldest dog savaged the screen door, tearing it to pieces, getting into the house seeking cover when her barometric pressure instinct decided a storm was brewing in down in Pittsboro.

The center was not holding.

But times are much cooler now, Honeybun, so my thoughts turn to those missing eggs.

When you first build a chicken coop, all the sight lines are clear. The area is open, tidy. You could even say "clean." After 30 years, not so much. Shelves have been added around most of the outside perimeter. A mini-storage loft has evolved. A chicken run, in the holy name of "free range," has been added, modified and then abandoned after an insurgent pine tree attack. And of course, separate sheds with cute little doors have been added for storage of new (and old!) feeders and watering cans. Not to mention a more secure space to raise baby chicks.

Snakes love all this. They love the clutter, the corners, the damp darkness of moldy old leaf bags, even the dusty rolls of chicken wire. They love salvaged coils of garden hose and tiers of tomato stakes. Why even that old birdhouse on the top shelf looks inviting!

No eggs for a few days usually means a snake has moved in. Before I can catch him, I need to reclaim my territory.

So that's what I'm doing, like an archaeologist digging through seasons past. A hundred yards away, I've started a convenient bonfire, topped with that shattered screen door. I could spend the whole day scouring the nearby woods for recent wind and storm debris. I could fill up all my various and historic wheelbarrows with rotting pine branches. I could climb up on the coop roof and rake off three years of verdant leaves.

The chickens do not like all this noisy activity. The mice and the snakes are quieter, peaceful. They obviously get along with their stealthy, slithering intruder. It might even be some kind of symbiotic conspiracy, I don't know. They're saying, "Just fill up the water buckets, give us some more cracked corn and be gone."

Nope, the battle lines are drawn. This coop, today. Besides, I tell them, what else am I going to do?

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