Friday, September 21, 2007

Spring means Snakes

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.


  1. I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog and the stories from your life. Sometime they differ from my life greatly (snakes and fire lighting and such) but never the less I enjoy them very much.

  2. Okay, I am no whimp, when it comes to mice, rats, and spiders...but I seriously doubt I would ever recover from discovering a cobra under my sofa.

  3. Oh, geez--that is one danger that unless you're in that kind of environment, you never think about. Well done with your caution.

  4. Hi Kit. We grew up on farms and our children spent many hours in vineyards and on the mountains when younger, so I understand completely. The wariness of the bush and the toxicity of creatures great and small is always in your mind in Africa. I remember when I first moved here, I was a little nervous of my neighbours 18month old playing around a rock with what looked like a tunnel spider web. When I asked her about it she gave me a funny look, and said: 'This is Somerset, the most dangerous thing we have around here is the cider!' That, more than anything else, puts African living in perspective for me. As children on farms in Gauteng we were always warned to take dogs with us when we walked, as they are the best protection against snakes.


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