Several years ago, through one summer a garter snake resided in the vigorous clematis (Clematis montana ‘Rubens’, below) that covers the rail on one side of our deck. I suppose there were occasions when the small snake followed the sturdy trunk of the vine down to prowl the ground below, but my wife and I become so accustomed to the snake’s presence that we mostly avoided that side of the deck.
The first sight of the snake in late spring was somewhat startling as the snake would curl atop the deck’s post at the far edge, where the thick vine was a bit less exuberant. Here, it would take advantage to lounge in the afternoon sun, and until this became a recognizable pattern, there were a few uncomfortable encounters. But, as this became more routine, accidental confrontations were fewer, and our bigger concern was when the snake was not on top of the vine, but possibly hidden just below the layers of dense foliage.
Despite our discomfort with this too close living arrangement, my wife and I were not fearful of the snake’s presence. We live beside a section of native forest that is bisected by a narrow stream, and the thick planting of trees and shrubs in the garden invites every sort of wildlife throughout the year. So, these encounters are not so unusual. Several days ago I was browsing the back garden when I wandered upon a rather large possum, or at least the largest I’ve ever seen so close up. It seemed agitated that I should venture so close, but the possum made no effort to flee (as groundhogs have when I’ve wandered too close).
Though I encourage most sorts of wildlife, I suppose that I’m not a possum person, so I agitated a bit on my own so that the beast finally scurried off back through the swampy meadow at the rear of the garden. No harm was done, and certainly the little fellow is welcome to return, though preferably at a time when we must not come face to face.
But, back to the snake in the clematis, which is not so unusual except that its curling and stretching in the sun on top of the vine covering the deck rail became such a regular occurrence. I was most concerned when I had to brush past the vine below the deck when I went to turn on the outside water faucet. I didn’t really expect the snake to leap from the vine to clamp its jaws to my throat, but I can’t say that I didn’t veer a bit into the spirea on the far side of the narrow path to the spigot.
This was not our first snake, and most certainly it will not be our last. This past summer another garter snake took residence in boulders that border our large koi pond. Though it was not considered at the time the pond was constructed, there could not possibly be a more ideal haven for snakes. There is shelter, ready access to water, shade from the scorching sun, and a buffet of all you catch baby koi by late spring.
Off an on I’ve seen snakes in and around this pond since it was constructed, and in the other four smaller ponds in the garden. For years, when I kept fish in the other ponds, I would occasionally walk up to catch a snake in the act of grabbing and dragging a small koi or goldfish out of the water, onto the rocks. But, now that fish are only in the large, deeper pond (thanks mostly to local herons), I see snakes in the smaller ponds less frequently.
The snake in the koi pond became more brazen as the summer progressed, and as it became more confrontational in defending its turf, my wife did the same. Though, from what she considered to be a safe distance, which was too far to do anything more than annoy the snake. While I traveled on business for a few weeks it seems the rock throwing must have gotten a bit out of hand, and finally, in an apparent fit the snake swam to the pond’s far edge, slithered over and through the rocks and off to more peaceful environs. There have been no further sightings, though I’ve caught a glimpse of a few tiny snakes as I weeded along the rocks that border the pond. These will be next year’s problems.