Even though we’ve gotten very little winter in my town this year and everyone’s worried about drought, spring has unequivocally arrived. All the fruit and nut trees are blooming at once, the daffodils are up, grape hyacinth, magnolias, camellias, forsythia . . . The flowering quince are still hanging in, those shades of dark coral bright against tiny green leaves. Next up are dogwoods and lilacs, and everything I forget about until spring rolls around again.

The cats I live with know it’s spring because there are different birds on the lawn. A lot of teeth-chattering attention through window glass is being paid to robins and titmice, Mountain Bluebirds and Red-Wing blackbirds.

But the real harbinger of spring in my mind is the baby snake. Not every household pays attention to baby snakes, but if you have any cats who were abandoned in and then rescued from a barn in San Luis Obispo, you’ll know what I mean. I never see the snakes arrive, although I’d bet it’s Gracie, my 16-year-old, half-blind, 7 lb. hunter who catches them. They just materialize on the kitchen tiles, gorgeous slim green or black pieces of string, all muscle no matter how tiny. As you know, cats like to play with their food. But snakes are slippery, wily, and astonishingly fast. And I don’t think they taste good, or the cats wouldn’t let them slither under book cases and refrigerators quite so quickly.

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I have been den mother, nursemaid, and entire downstairs staff to at least two cats for the last 25 years, and once, briefly, as many as nine. Over this time I’ve learned to put hot compresses on abscessed wounds, clean up any number of bodily fluids and solids, dispose of half-eaten squirrels, save birds from feline jaws, and pick up baby snakes.

I’m not generally afraid of snakes, but I don’t feel relaxed with them, either. I’ve held my neighbor’s pet King snake, who’s at least four feet long and two inches around, but only because he named her Betty, and I didn’t want to lose face. It’s patently ridiculous to fear anyone named Betty. Snakes are essentially one long muscle. It’s amazing to feel one inching down your arm behind the iconic wedge-shaped head and a forked tongue delicately flicking in and out to taste the air.

These teeny snakes I pick up right behind their heads, in hopes they can’t then turn around and bite me. Sometimes they curl up like Christmas ribbons or thrash around, but mostly they hang suspended like a stick, taut and wary. I lay them down in the flower beds, and my cats, for some reason, don’t follow me outside, but sniff and hunt through the kitchen, completely mystified about where the little darlings have gone. This makes it  criminally easy to outwit them, which is good, because right now it’s five against one around here, and I need all the advantage I can get.

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The only thing that really worries me is what will happen when my refrigerator dies and I need to install a new one. There might be 212 tiny shriveled bodies under there. Or maybe just one really big live one.

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  • hillsmom March 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Ditto! Once I deliberately missed a question in a biology course because I refused to touch the “pickled” snake to identify it’s gender. (It was in a jar…oh, it was very dead)

  • Shirley March 5, 2016 at 10:33 am

    No to snakes of any size. Yes to all the rest of the harbingers of spring!:-)