My dogs and I met our first Boa the other day. The encounter/attack was life-altering. Nobody died or anything, but meeting a 10+ foot snake 12 yards from the front door is a bit disconcerting to say the least. We met and caught a 4 footer the following week in the front yard, just under the bedroom window. Isn’t that nice? Well, we didn’t catch it, the fish and game commissioner who lives up the hill did. I just trapped it in the container where it was discovered sleeping. I wish I had some poignant metaphoric observation to make about all this, but it is still too fresh to me. I will have to give it time. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you what happened.
One of the many selling points that brought us to the island where we moved recently was that there are no naturally occurring snakes here. The snakes we met aren’t natural in that sense, they were brought here as pets and let loose when they got too big and now there are lots of them living quite naturally here in the rain forest part of the island.
So, word was out about snakes in the area. Our neighbor, the Fish & Game Commissioner, had caught about forty of them in the last year. He had already been doing an excellent job of keeping the invasive population of lionfish down along the coast, but now his focus was shifting towards these land based invaders.
So, I was keeping my eyes out as I walked our Basset Hound and Yellow Lab. They were on one leash with a ‘Y’ on the end because my hips couldn’t handle being twisted about by two 50 pound dogs pulling individual leashes in two directions at the same time. This way they pulled against each other and I was no longer their wishbone. This island is very third-world in many ways but my road is paved. No curbs or sidewalks, however, and the vegetation intrudes on the roadway rather quickly, so it gets chopped back by crews every so often.
We were walking by an area of 18 inch tall grass when the dogs started tripping over one another. I looked down at them and saw the beautiful large head of a snake! So, I yanked on the leash causing the Lab’s chin to come crashing down on the snake’s forehead. This startled me more, so I pulled both dogs out of the way and looked back at the snake. I stared at him, mesmerized, waiting for the snake to tell me what to do next. He looked as if he were deep in thought while he regarded me warily. He did not look as if he were going to pursue. The three of us were still very close to the alluring attacker, so I broke my gaze and moved the dogs to the other side of the street. I turned and saw that he continued to gaze at me. I slowly stepped closer to see how big he was since most of his body was still folded in the grass. We examined one another for a few moments more, then he slowly, and confidently, turned and retreated into the grass.
The boa and I seemed to have a rapport with one another during our brief encounter. It was very primal. It was the regard of a predator to its meal: consumer to the consumed, bully to his target. I trusted the snake not to attack me, he sensed I was not going to attack him, we could see our intent in one another’s eyes. I assume he was waiting in the grass for some rat or mongoose to happen along when a basset foot showed up and he sprung. He must have pulled in his teeth when he saw more than the dumpy basset’s foot strapped to a taller yellow creature attached to 5’-8” human. His tiny brain couldn’t calculate the mass of the potential meal in front of him. Nor could he figure how to wrap himself around all three of us to squeeze our lives away. He had the affect of an old-time accountant wearing a vest and green visor pulling the handle on an adding machine tallying up his options.
The colors on his head and back were astounding. I was in awe of the color. Young people use the word awesome for anything that is novel to them, but the emotion of awe in its true meaning modestly describes my attraction to the beauty of his skin. I barely noticed how much body was curled up in that pile of snake. There were some angular protrusions along his flank that may have been still-digesting dinners of the past. I am glad none of us were among them.
So, as residents of the rainforest we have certain other critters to contend with, one of them being rats. These fellows are actually kind of nice, not like their cousins I’ve encountered in downtown Detroit and Boston. They are still destructive however, so we have a service put poison out in little black plastic containers with holes for the rats to enter and exit. During the day these boxes become quite warm in the sun. Snakes like warmth and will sleep in them during the day. The young man who services them didn’t expect to be touching a boa constrictor when he reached inside. He screamed like a school kid at three o’clock on a Friday. That snake was gone by the time the commissioner arrived, so he showed me how to trap it next time. We caught him two days later. This one was four feet long and not nearly as friendly as the other one. Of course, we had just woken him from his nap and grabbed him by the throat and squeezed his jaws open to look at his multiple rows of hooked teeth. That would make me cranky too. He spent the rest of his life in a backpack. Rules say wait five days to dispatch these guys and a backpack is secure enough (snakes don’t get how zippers work apparently) and easy to carry. Although, as of late, he seems to need more backpacks.
So, how has my life been altered? Well, I carry a big stick on dog walks. My husband wants me to carry a machete which he has recently sharpened, but I’m pretty confident the dogs or myself would be the targets of my blade wielding ineptitude; it’s hard enough using the damned thing to harvest a bunch of bananas without the loss of a thumb. The main change in my life, though, comes from having looked directly into the eyes of a predator and being considered, briefly, lunch. I, for a moment, shared a rapport with an eating machine. He considered eating me and since I showed no aggression he felt he might have a chance. He chose not to, possibly due to the bumbling dogs at the end of my leash, or my extra-large belly; who can say? Neither of us showed the other fear. Now, I just hope he goes home and tells all the other snakes how fearless I am and to leave me and my dogs alone. I’m not sure I could go through that again.