First day of spring you say. But I can tell you that the first day of spring isn’t about warmth, blossoms and bees for me. It’s when those creeping, sneaky, slithery snakes come out.
We farm girls are nothing short of superwomen – we can fix fences, toe cut sheep, pull a lamb, shovel grain, muster on horseback, drive tractors, trucks, maybe change a tyre if we really have to – but definitely not a truck tyre!
I particularly love the feeling of being able to catch a sheep out of a mob. It was dad’s favourite summertime activity for us kids – around lunchtime he’d ask us to give him a hand with a job. He always made it sound quick and easy. Three hours later we’d return to the house hot, thirsty, dusty and near death after catching flyblown sheep out of a mob down yonder.
That, for the uninitiated, involves walking into the mob which is hopefully cornered in a paddock, sighting a flystruck sheep, honing in, catching it by the back leg and dragging it over to dad, who’d clip it and cover the maggots with a white watery stinky solution. If you miss the leg the first time. Well, you don’t want to miss.
Dad had another summertime activity, which was walking through wheat crops to pull out the black oats. I was stupid enough to do that until I had heard enough stories of snakes rising up through crops to strike at people mustering on motorbikes. The last time I was enticed into the paddock by Dad, I lasted about five metres before I turned heel back to the Landcruiser and sat on the roof.
We know my family love to laugh at me and the animal situation out here. I love them but I loathe the snakes. It’s my summertime obsession.
We should count our blessings because it’s only one type of snake – the Eastern Brown – but come on, they pack a punch.
Frankly, I don’t know how generations have survived the number of snakes my vivid imagination conjures. But there is good reason.
They are bloody everywhere. And it does me no good to know they sleep by day, hunt by night. That they get into houses, cupboards, beds, under pillows. Yes, that is how the legend of King Billy Pagett was born – after he was bitten by a snake in his bed one night. He survived but the tale is incredibly sobering.
They’re quiet and well camouflaged and sneak around. They get caught under cars, can be found in the main street of Young.
They love eggs – so the chook yard is ACHTUNG. And if they find a sunny spot – they loiter, so anyone with a north-facing house has the pleasure of possibly stepping outside and onto a snake.
I’ve crossed stock grids only to discover halfway there were snakes below me.
The first time I was 13 and headed down to get the mail in my purple dressing gown and ugg boots (I had the flu) and I will never forget that hissing, striking from below my very slippery soles. There was a reason I won the 200-metre sprint at school – I learned to be fast.
We had a dog T-Bone – a beautifully trained sheepdog with pale blue eyes. He happened to be hanging out with a Jack Russell one day when they decided a snake down near the dam (and history will tell you there has always been a snake down at that dam) was fair game.
Sadly T Bone is remembered now through a tribute “Ode to T-Bone”’ written by Scottish filmmaker, artist and writer Murray Grigor, who had never met T-Bone but the genius of the man was his ability to capture the essence of the dog in around 10 verses. It was epic.
On the flip side, T-Bone had also managed to pass on his genetics, so we had another generation of dogs named after meat cuts – Brisket, Chop and so forth.
But I’ve had so many close encounters with snakes I feel like Steven Spielberg. Even when I lived in Toronto, Canada one slithered over my feet. The coffee drinkers at the table next door were heard to say, “she must be Australian”.
So, I’m a member of the Canberra Snake Tracking Project Facebook Group because, scientifically speaking, I reckon if the snakes are out down there, where it’s colder, they’ll be out here.
And I can tell you I was alert and alarmed to see a snake basking amid vegetation in the Canberra sun on an 11-degree day – August 19.
One – I could barely see it and two – it’s not even spring. And don’t they live on rocks and open spaces?
So bit by bit and after a ridiculous number of years of vigilance, I find I am none the wiser about my foe the snake except through this group and from the vantage point of my phone where I can study them and their habits.
Look them up – it’s a pearler of a page and seriously – who knew snakes didn’t have a calendar?
But strangely, it’s gently teaching me how to appreciate them even though I’ll still walk the house by night with a torch.