I first saw the snake two weeks ago when I was out checking my newly planted vegetables. Hearing some water flowing in the drain nearby, I went over to see what was happening. I found this small Eastern garter snake—about a foot and a half long—curled up around the drain.
When I, the giant two-legged monster approached, he stuck his head in his hole by the drain and froze. The garter snake appeared certain that I could not see him because he could not see me. That meant I could get a close-up.
The snake could be a she. I don’t know how you sex a snake and I’m not sure I want to know. Even if I learned, I would not actually, you know, do it.
I took a few pictures and left the garter snake to warm up in the morning sun.
Second Garter Snake Encounter
The next time I saw Stripey, he was lying on the gravel near the retaining wall in my backyard. He must have been really cold and in need of warmth because he lay so still, I worried that he was dead. I looked closely but couldn’t tell.
I went away to check out my perennial border, in which the red iris, yellow yarrow and blue salvia were bursting with color. When I returned to check on Stripey, he had moved, so I knew he was alive.
A Garter Snake in the Grass
This week, I went to the drain again when Stripey darted away through the grass. I had not even seen him there. With the huge two-legged monster approaching, he froze and we watched one another for a while. I went off to water my herb pots and he went on to do whatever garter snakes do in the grass.
I hope one of those activities is eating chipmunks. The war between me and the chipmunks continues. I don’t have the heart to poison them with Moletox or put a garden hose in their hidey hole. I may be a big two-legged monster but I’m a softie. Having eaten three big beautiful hostas from beneath, the chipmunks appear to be living in the perennial border but not actually chowing down on it. I can live with that.
Research tells me that garter snakes do eat rodents, although Stripey doesn’t look big enough to take one on. Also Stripey will have to go some to nail a chipmunk. The furry little critters are fast! And without Mystique to keep them in perpetual fear of their lives, they have become very bold. Yesterday one I call Flash burst out from the day lilies, looked me up and down, and high-tailed it (literally) down the retaining wall.
Snakes and Me
I am one of those rare people who is not afraid of snakes. I think they are interesting and most of our fear comes from the how startled we are when something we didn’t even see, slithers away at top speed.
Our previous house has a pond in the back yard. It’s not a swimming, boating pond but more like a wildlife habitat. In addition to birds (great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, night herons, hawks, flycatchers, kingfishers, and a pileated woodpecker) it shelters frogs, turtles, ducks, Canada geese, and small fish.
At the bottom of the yard, by the edge of pond, a northern water snake took up residence. These critters are thick, dark, shiny and wicked fast. I used to walk softly and quietly in the hope of catching her (Okay, I decided it was a female without any evidence) but I rarely succeeded before she whipped into the water and out of sight.
The Hognose in the Lilacs
Once I was raking under the lilacs when a very small brown snake coiled up and opened its mouth in a threat display. It was probably a juvenile eastern hognose doing its best to frighten me away. I decided to leave it alone and go rake somewhere else until it had left.
Another time I was standing by the pond when a garter snake like Stripey started cruising along the edge. I just stood still and watched it go until it did something unexpected. It turned around and came right at me—and pretty fast, too. Yes, I’m bigger. Yes, I’m smarter. But something about its focused approach unnerved me and I took off for a less confrontational part of the yard.
My Low-Profile Neighbor
So, now we have a garter snake for a neighbor. I’m sure I will see him in the mornings, which is when he seems to be out more. I won’t bother him and he won’t bother me. hope no one gets frightened and kills Stripey. I hope the landscapers don’t run him over with a mower. He and I can get along just fine. Also, it’s fun to see what Stripey is doing up close. How often do we get the chance like that?
2020 Update: I know now that Stripey is a female garter snake. In the spring I found multiple snake skins from when they molted. I tried to collect one intact but they were so paper thin they all fell apart.
Snake species in Massachusetts