Sunday, September 5, 2010

Past Deadline: Snake Girl

We just spent a marvellous week at a cottage close to home (read: within commuting distance for those who had work-related commitments). The best part was watching the kids’ backs as they ran out the door in the morning, returning only for meals sporadically during the day. The rest of their time was spent frolicking in the lake or patrolling the shoreline looking for beasties.

As a kid, I was a dandy frog/snake/fish/turtle catcher, and I still think it is an important part of growing up to check out critters, learn how to treat them nice and let them go.

So that’s what we did all week.

At this cottage there is a large frog population and all of the kids (including my own) spent the day tracking them down, creating a habitat for them in a cooler, observing them for a while and then letting them go, only to do it all again later. We were also graced by the presence of two northern water snakes. The big one arrived each morning to dine on frogs near our docks, and a littler one would come by in the afternoon to do the same.

Everyone was fascinated by this. A crowd gathered to watch.

And then my daughter, the four-year-old pixie with the blonde hair and big blue eyes, tossed a frog to the big snake and we all watched in amazement as it snapped it up with lightning speed, expanded its jaw and swallowed it whole in two minutes.

We ooohed and aaahed.

I waded in with a camera to take close-up pictures, Girlchild right beside me, while men and women herded their children onto shore. “Isn’t she brave!” they said of Girlchild. She responded, “I’m not afraid of snakes. I’m like my mom!”

Oh, how my heart swelled!

Boychild was in on the action, too, but it wasn’t as noticeable because, well, it’s kind of expected that eight-year-old boys are intrigued by reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Later, Girlchild asked if she could touch the snake, but the critter wasn’t as keen on that idea, and swam away quickly upon approach. That was a good demonstration for those who were a bit nervous around the snakes: as soon as anyone got close or towered above one, it swam in the other direction. We’re bigger than snakes are. They think we might eat them, so they go away.
To repeat the old cliché: They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.

Not only that, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re too big for a northern water snake to eat. It’s only likely to bite you as a defence mechanism if you try to pick it up and, even if it does bite you, it’s non-venomous and would probably feel a bit like a scratch – not even as bad as a horsefly bite.

While some folks still seemed a little uncertain about the whole thing and probably assumed I should be charged with reckless endangerment for letting my young child wander amongst the beasties, I am pleased to report that no one ran screaming from the water and no snakes were hacked to tiny bits during the course of our stay, although they did eat a few frogs. Such is the nature of nature.

Other daily amphibian- and reptile-related activities included swimming past the turtle log several times, wearing goggles and swimming with the fishes (and not in a Sopranos way), discovering the myriad of bread products little fish will eat (graham crackers are a hit), observing how crayfish like to grab at things with their claws and learning the correct way to release fish caught with a rod and reel.

Another delight was watching two adult loons teach two babies how to dive and fish. They spent many hours drifting in the little bay near the cottage – which was very obviously a great fishing ground. Girlchild does a pretty good loon call, too, and could often be heard answering the adults. “The Blonde Loon,” we called her.

Now, if only I could figure out how to install a lake in my backyard, we’d be able to pitch the TV and computer games for sure!

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 26/10.


Betsy said...

I love this story. There is nothing more disturbing to me than seeing parents pass on their silly phobias, spiders, bees, snakes, or dislikes--snow or rain, etc, to their children simply by modeling.

If you scream every time you see a snake or spider, so will your child. If you moan about the weather constantly, so will your child, without even knowing what she's moaning about. It's so important to teach children not to fear, or try to predict, nature. Bravo

Steph said...

Thanks, Betsy. I so totally agree! (Of course I hear my daughter playing in the next room right now and the little girl is asking the mommy for something and the mommy is turning around and saying "What!?" rather impatiently. Sigh. It's tough being a role model....)

Gen said...

My brother has a snake nest near his pool. Garter snakes, totally harmless. They are always sunning themselves on top of the bushes - sometimes many of them tangled together in a black ball. I have pointed them out to my kids very calmly as though they are cuddly chipmunks. But then when i come around a corner or out a door and practically trip over one I cannot help but scream and flee as though it will actually kill me. It's totally reflex and involuntary. Having said that, i would have been fascinated to have been the cottage with you and would have been totally fine watching the kids play and feed it frogs.. but I if were alone I would be taking off in the opposite direction. Sad, I know.

Steph said...

Gen - that sounds totally cool!

I know what you mean, though. I always remember the time Dar and I were in the suite on 11th Glen and a mouse appeared. Dar jumped up on a chair and started screaming, so of course I did, too. Suddenly it occurred to me: "What am I doing? I work in a provincial park. I am not afraid of mice." And so endeth my screaming. (It's more the element of surprise than anything.)