Spring is triumphing over winter, yellow and pink daisies have succeeded the white ones, two balmy days in a row have woken up the flies, the miggies (pronounced muchies with a nice phlegm-raising rasp for the ch(!), those irritating gnats which in England we called midges) and the fiercely biting horseflies. At lunch the snake warning was solemnly pealed over our children.
All winter they are free to run about among the restios and the bushes, barefoot if they please, the snakes are hibernating then. Once spring warmth wakens them to emerge sleepily into the warm sun, we sternly have to curtail the children's exploration. Every year at about this time we gather them together and announce that there is to be no more bush whacking, shoes are to be worn, they are to play in the clear areas.
The snake bush code has been drummed into them since they were tiny. Stick to the paths, don't poke in any holes, wear shoes, if you do see a snake, FREEZE! Most of the snakes that we have in our area - the Cape cobra and the mole snake, will escape rather than attack, as long as you give them space. It is only the ugly puff adder, that stays still pretending to be a stick, that doesn't get out of your way if it can.
In our five years, touch wood, I haven't had any close encounters between the children and the snakes. I think it helps that we are usually escorted everywhere by a phalanx of dogs, whose snuffling and foraging will have given adequate warning of our advance.
Our farm worker Leon though, with his quiet tread through the bushes, frequently encounters the cobras. A couple of times one has made its way in to my sister in law's house. The huge kerfuffle, as armed with sticks and long boots they tried to persuade it back outside, sent it slithering up a convenient roll of thick paper that was leaned against the wall. They were able to fold it over at the ends and carry it carefully a long way from the house to be released. It was the aftershock of discovering that they had been sitting on a sofa, underneath which a snake had been cosily ensconced for several evenings, that left its mark.
The mole snakes are actually beneficial. They are not poisonous and keep down the rodent populations, in particular the enormous moles that excavate our whole farm into a desert of sandy heaps. Unfortunately when people see a snake they don't stop to enquire it's name and many of these are killed mistakenly for a cobra. We have a policy of relocating cobras rather than killing them, if they are making their homes too close to ours, though the atavistic urge to dispose of the threat succinctly with a stick is hard to resist.
I always feel sad when I find another dead snake in the road and the population explosion among the moles also makes me feel more kindly towards the snakes… as long as that don't try to share my house with me and they keep away from my children.