We live on a lake, surrounded by trees and next to a marsh. Another way to say that is: we live on an aquarium filled with swimmy things, surrounded by birds, squirrels and skunks and next to a breeding ground for amorous frogs and mosquitoes. Carol delights in seeing a colorful and dynamic variety of birds and other creatures, tracking their movements across the seasons. Occasionally I pick up a piece of wood to place in the fire pit and come across a spider as big as my fist, which is a handy reference since I immediately clench it after dropping the log and retreating in terror upon discovering the menacing arachnid. I say “menacing” but I’m the one who disturbed him.

And then there are snakes. When we launch our kayaks, we often see a small serpent swimming near the shoreline; we’d describe him as “cute” if it weren’t for the fact that he’s, you know — a snake. And then a few weeks ago we were standing on our upstairs deck off the bedroom and spied a turtle making his way across the yard. We were amused by his slow and steady pace and speculated regarding his destination. At one point I lost track of where he was and Carol said, “He’s next to that big stick in the yard.” At that moment, the stick started to move and undulated across the grass, disappearing under the fire pit. This fellow was pretty serious looking — nearly 4 feet in length and with a solid circumference (I’ve since determined he was a northern water snake: “known to defend itself aggressively and can deliver a painful but non-venomous bite”). We watched him intently until he finally worked his way to the edge of the lake and slipped into the water. His journey across our lawn took several minutes from when we first spied him, and I was shocked to discover I could go that long without blinking or taking a breath.

We attended our lake association’s annual meeting last year, our first time. There was lots of discussion about the condition of the water, the variety of aquatic plant life, and the kinds of creatures residing in and around the area — loons, osprey, eagles, carp, foxes, turtles… and snakes. One gentleman stood up and declared in a loud and clear voice, “There are NO POISONOUS SNAKES IN THE STATE OF MAINE!” Others in attendance chuckled and nodded their heads in agreement, but my thought was — “How do the snakes know which state they’re in? Snakes can read maps?” If a timber rattlesnake from neighboring New Hampshire (they’ve got ’em; look it up) decides to cross the border into Maine, is he able to read the signs saying, “Welcome to Maine! The Way Life Should Be” and say “Whoops! Enticing as that sounds – I gotta turn around!”? The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife says the timber rattlesnake has been “extirpated” from Maine. If I had to look that word up, I rather doubt the snakes are adhering to that standard, either. The same department’s website offers “Tips for Attracting Snakes”. As far as I’m concerned, that knowledge is as welcome as “Tips for Attracting Rabid Animals To Your Living Room” or “Tips for Getting More Eggs in Your Egg Salad”.

In fairness, I must say we haven’t dealt with a coital coiled snake, ready to spring. We’ve watched them from a respectful distance and they haven’t let on that they’re planning any sort of attack. My biggest fear is finding one in the house, especially when I make one of my multiple trips to the bathroom during the night, foolishly thinking I know my way to the toilet well enough that I don’t have to bother to put on my glasses before I come downstairs. I’ll be perched on the commode and sense some slight movement in the corner next to the tub. With my field of vision a blurry haze, I’ll lean closer and closer in that direction until I find myself nose-to-nose with a sleek serpent. He’ll flick his forked tongue, tasting the molecules dispersing from my direction and assessing his response. Maybe he’ll strike, maybe he won’t, but one thing I know for sure — I will extirpate all over myself.