Earthworms’ Castings: Year Of No Snakes

With Jean Ponzi

The time came, back in 2012, for my Mom to move from our family home. This was one big move.

We built our house in 1960, between Wisconsin farms and lakes, just outside Milwaukee. Our town would not become a full-fledged suburb until the mid-70s. Rural, yet close to city culture.

Woods and fields were all around us. Our neighborhood was a long, steep hill. We lived at the top, right in the woods. It was a most wonderful place to grow up.
The house was chocolate brown, with double turquoise doors.

Mom and Dad saved construction bucks by installing and finishing all the baseboard, door and window trim, plus other odd bits. It was hard work – especially for Mom, pregnant with Little Ponzi #2 – but I know they were proud to be hands-on homeowners.
Six-year-old Jean worked too. My job was to pick up nails. I went from room to room, between the studs! I was clean-up kid for the framing carpenters. It was magic to walk through “walls.” I kept that kinship with the house – and made lifetime connections to
Nature – in my time living there.

That was Mom and Dad’s home for nearly 50 years.

Then Life called for a smaller, simpler place. It was just Mom’s move. Dad had passed from the realm of home ownership and maintenance. He had become our Ancestor. My brothers and I had our own homes. I lived three hundred miles away.

My youngest brother lived very close, and he was our Mom’s support. I appreciated his service sincerely, and also tried to pitch in.

I said to Mom at that time, “If you want to move to St. Louis, I’ll be your person as long as you need me.” I was willing to take that one for the team. But Mom wanted none of it.
“Ugh!” she unequivocally said. “I could never live in your climate, and you have SNAKES!”

Though taken aback by both her force and focus, I managed to point out that St. Louis has all the modern amenities, even AC, and Wisconsin’s native fauna includes plenty of squamous reptiles who, like ours, prefer to steer clear of humans.

But I knew what she was saying. I had recently shared the happy news that garter snakes were living in the bushes at the end of our driveway. For Nature Girl me, that felt pretty swell. Snakes! A whole clan of them! They came up from the ivy beds to bask atop the yews. They were slender, black with bright yellow stripes. Silent, sinuous, wild. I loved hosting them!

And I was not inviting Mom to move into our house, just to come here to St. Louis. But she would not hear of it. I know she refused me for many good reasons. I did not take offense. But I did start to appreciate our driveway bush neighbors as Snake Insurance that caring for Mom would not become a thing for me.

Mom moved into an apartment she liked. I enjoyed visiting her, and enjoyed our annually expanding community of snakes. Life was good.

Last year, Mom’s health took a downward turn. And spring brought no snakes up through the bushes.

What is “insurance,” after all?

By mid-summer, it seemed that I might have been ill-advised to spray Bt, Bacillus thuringensis, on those bushes to help control an influx of evergreen bagworms. They were fascinating too, though destructive. I hand-pulled their cocoons off the yews, but I knew that eggs laid on needles would keep the infestation going. My research on the effects of Bt hadn’t shown any red flags for our snakes. . .

Was I mistaken? Would Mom need me here after all? What did it all mean?

I felt really sad on all counts.

As days grew shorter and trees began to turn, Mom felt a little better. And one day I saw one little snake basking down in the ivy. Life was moving on.

Internally, I cashed in my Snake Insurance. I was OK with whatever might come.
This spring, Mom has no more need to move, from house to apartment, or state to state. She has joined Dad in being our beloved Ancestor.

I’m watching our driveway bushes as days grow warm and longer, hoping to welcome back our snakes.

Jean Ponzi appreciates Nature and relationships in many ways, hosting her show Earthworms that podcasts weekly from KDHX St. Louis Independent Media. Catch these conversations at kdhx.org.