The Sock in the Corner
by Donna Mahoney Schmidt
We live off the beaten path in an old farmhouse that has its good qualities and its bad.
I had not slept well for the night had been hot and our menagerie of pets was up at all hours making little scratching sounds, rattling dishes, begging to go outside, demanding to come in.
Our three cats were having trouble sleeping as well. They did not settle on the usual overstuffed chaise lounge but opted to take turns in the hard wooden chair in the corner of the hall. I noticed a different feline in the seat each time our old Labrador asked to go out. It was strange behavior, especially for our lazy cats, but then it was hot and the hall is cooled by a slate floor that most animals find comforting.
In the morning, after letting the dog out (again) and shooing the calico from its odd oak perch, I noticed an old sock balled up on the corner behind the chair. I approached the dirty stocking, mumbling about children picking up after themselves. The hallway was not a hamper, and if the kids managed to make a hoop from 20 feet out in the driveway, certainly they could pitch dirty clothes into the washer.
But as I neared the sock, it moved.
I jumped back and tried to focus on the object, for I had not yet put in my contacts and had savored only one cup of coffee. And, anyway, how can a sock move?
Through half-blind eyes, I recognized the unnerving shape of a coiled up snake.
The calico chose this moment to take interest in our visitor. She crouched low like a lioness on the hunt and moved in on her prey. I grabbed the surprised cat and sent it sailing out the front door. Next I banished the kids from the hall and located my glasses.
Was this creature the black snake that lies under the house, our friend who keeps the mouse population in check? Was this Old Reliable, who leaves in the garden presents of dried gray skin that upon discovery make me jump out of my skin?
Ever so slowly, I crept closer to the dark shape in the corner.
I always knew that being a Girl Scout would come in handy. I must have earned a snake badge, for when the visitor moved his head upward along the wall, I recognized its triangular shape, took note of its coloring, and joined the children on safer ground.
It was a copperhead, and a big one, too.
Now what do I do?
I recalled how dangerous the bite of such a snake could be, but I could not decide if having one in the hall was a true emergency, requiring a call to 911. Besides, what if this was only a corn snake, a copperhead wannabe?
I asked advice. My neighbor told me to call 911. The Fire Department told me to call 911. So I called. A dispatcher as excited as I promised to have Animal Control call me back. That officer assured me he would be at the house in a quick 40 minutes. Meanwhile, I was not to let the snake go anywhere.
How do you entertain a poisonous copperhead for 40 minutes? Very carefully.
My children, Allison and Christopher, and I watched from a safe distance. Every time the snake moved, we panicked, screamed and threw something at it. The snake lunged at the airborne objects, its fangs looking pretty darn scary in its big pink mouth. When the enemy retreated to his corner, we laughed nervously at our victory and looked around for the next item to throw.
Finally, the animal control officer poked his head inside. "Yea, you got yourself a big one," he said. From his van, he returned with a stick and sack.
Clamping the neck of the snake with a vise at the end of the stick, he held up our visitor, a fat, three-foot long tan and brown beauty.
A copperhead, he told us, thrives in rocky or wooded terrain, seeking out wet areas in the summer. Like other members of the pit viper family, glands on either side of its head give it a triangular shape as opposed to the narrow head of a non-venomous snake. These glands produce a strong poison that the copperhead shoots into its victim - usually the small mammals, frogs, birds and other snakes on which it feeds - through needle-like fangs.
Dark brown hourglass markings on a tan or copper background further set it apart, with the lighter female much more dangerous than its copper-colored mate.
The retrieval of our copperhead by Animal Control was only the second case this year in Anne Arundel County. There had been a few false alarms, he said. You know, copperhead wannabes.
Artist, writer and teacher Donna Mahoney Schmidt, of Lothian, had her visitor in August. We bring it up now because cooling weather sometimes brings snakes indoors. Read about other snake visitors in Not Just for Kids.