a french garden

A snake in the house

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It is still glacial; I am still drawn towards my warm place near the log fire, watching my frozen garden like a stranger, not quite recognising it as mine.  It was -12 C this morning, one degree warmer than yesterday.  Should I take this as a good sign?  The weather forecast predicts warmer temperatures for next week.

Still on the theme of our uninvited visitors, I recall our first encounter just a short while after we had arrived to take up permanent residence here inFrance.  It was in the evening and before retiring I decided to make some tea.  I rose from the living room and put on the dining room light and froze.  A snake was on the floor under my sideboard.  Its head was protruding from the one side of the cabinet while its tail was still casually trailing behind and visible from the other end.  I did a quick mental calculation – not difficult as I knew my sideboard was 1m30 (4ft 3 ins).  The snake was nearly 2 metres long.

We had never had any problem with snakes in our apartment in Aberdeen.  I quickly pointed out to my husband that we had a 2 metre snake under our sideboard.  He got down on his hands and knees to check this out as the reptile had quickly tucked his head and tail beneath the sideboard.  He got up and paused to think as I waited for inspiration.

“Get that book we have on garden animals”, he suggested.

“What the Collins Nature Guide on Garden Animals?  The one with the hedgehog on the front?  I think not!”

We retired to the living room for further discussion of the usual marital variety while the snake decided to explore, sliding along between floor and wall.  My husband was determined that it had to be evicted before we went to bed but the snake was amazingly rapid for something with no legs.  He then had the brain wave of hitting the tiles behind him and forcing him to flee from the noise in the direction we wanted.  In this way we managed to chase him along the skirting towards the dining room patio doors.  Opening the patio doors and banging from both sides we forced him to escape through the open door.  He took off across the patio and slid up a stone flower trough.  Safe on top of the trough he rose up, hissed viciously and sped off.

This was the first noise he had made so he definitely espoused the idea that the better part of valour is discretion.

In due course I found an excellent web page in English as well as French http://www.herpfrance.com/reptile/western_whip_snake_hierophis_viridiflavus.php which allowed me to identify our visitor as the Western Whipsnake Hierophis viridiflavus.

Unfortunately, snakes are not well loved or understood in this area.  Although most people would identify the snake as a “couleuvre” which is known to be harmless, many would prefer to kill them and ask questions later.

Our snake is still with us.  We have not had any inside visits again but we see him outside from time to time and he leaves his shed skin in the outbuilding (cellier) to reassure us that he has not deserted us.

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Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

6 thoughts on “A snake in the house

  1. A good—and colorful—instance of all’s well that ends well.

    On the language side, I’ll add that the French word couleuvre developed from Vulgar Latin (bas latin) *colobra. In Portuguese, which often lost an l between vowels, the Vulgar Latin word evolved to cobra, which English and other languages now recognize as a particular kind of snake.

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  2. Wow, a big ol’ snake in the house! He’s a beauty, isn’t he? Where I used to live it was common for people to keep rat snakes in their attic to ward off pests. I’d much rather have a snake patrolling the premises than use chemicals.

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    • He has never come inside again but we feel he used to when the house was empty. The roof has terracotta tiles and we know he goes under them. They do take small mammals like mice but I think my ultrasonic device I keep in my utility room is more efficient to dissuade them from coming in.

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  3. At that size I’d expect “him” to be a “her”…
    but snakes are difficult to sex…
    and have a very smelly way of defending themselves from the same orrifice.
    I never got rid of the smell from my work jacket…
    although the smell from the regurgitated fish that the Manx Shearwater chicks vomited on it did go eventually….
    and there was a distinct odour of gazole from spraying on the jacket as well….
    but that went…
    however, because of the grass snake ess-aitch-one-tea… the jacket went!!

    Have you come across the new dual-language Biotope Guide to the Vertebrates of Britain and Europe? We treated ourselves to it for Christmas… superb!!

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