Sunday, May 11, 2008


It was about 4pm and the clouds had covered the sky, I was moving my tray of seedlings from the lawn to the deck. I had just set it down and was considering watering them, when a snake slithered from between the half milk cartons that house my seedlings. It was brown and it had a big diamond shaped head – both these things are bad here. It was a baby – about 15 inches. I fetched my machete, wondering as I did so whether I was really going to kill it. It wondered too as it disappeared behind my steps. This was bad. So I waited. I sat and watched it wondering how bad it really was, almost convincing myself it would be okay if it lived under the house. But the dogs love being under the house. Brown and diamond headed means boa or viper. Boa isn’t bad, it wouldn’t be big enough to hurt the dogs for a long time, but a boa bite can be nasty: an expensive and unnecessary vet visit. Viper is really bad. Like deadly. There’s a pretty good chance that I would survive a bite, the clinic is not so far. But the dogs no, and I have to say that losing the dogs to a snake bite is probably my biggest fear here. So, there he or she was hanging out behind the steps and there was I sitting thinking all this trying to ignore the mosquitoes that were telling me it would be dark soon.
As I was sitting there, Frederick went by. Frederick is my neighbor, an old hippy from Berkeley, an acid casualty if ever there was one. At that moment I was convincing myself the snake wasn’t dangerous. I went out to the path and called Frederick asking him if he could identify snakes. The two questions he asked were colour and head shape. Yep it was bad. But Frederick, being the old hippy he is – somewhat dim sighted and believing in the good will of everything (except the US government and guard dogs), decided it wasn’t really a snake and while I was telling him it most assuredly was - having no legs and scales – he caught it in a nearby empty yogurt container and upended it on the deck. I was shocked, and actually quite disturbed, I was still holding the machete but now put it down and fetched a strong glass jar from the house – the kind with that metal latch that catches and locks the lid down. Frederick scooped the container over the jar and in it fell. I latched the lid while the snake was trying to work out what the hell was happening. “Boy oh boy”, said Frederick, “will you look at that, it is a snake”.
Yep, it was a snake. Now I had a snake in a jar. Frederick left and it’s sitting on the deck. I’ve looked at the reptile and amphibian guide to Costa Rica, which is the only one available, but certainly not conclusive. I don’t know what it is. I was worried that it was a Fer-de-Lance: the most feared snake in Central America (so says the book). The Fer-de-Lance is aggressive, deadly and reaches up to 8 foot in length, the females give birth to live young – up to 86 at a time. They are terrestrial snakes and several babies have been killed in the garden over the last 8 years. But while the snake in the jar is brown with a big head and patterned correctly, the snake in the picture has a lot more creamy white in its markings. Actually the snake in the jar is not the colour of any of the pictures in the book. Clearly it’s a juvenile but none of the descriptions mention colour variations. Maybe it’s a little boa. I like snakes. I have this horrible desire to touch it. Obviously I won’t, and indeed every 5 minutes or so I check that it’s still in the jar and hasn’t miraculously opened the lid. But the desire is still there. This is one of those lesson times.
It’s Saturday night. The local snake guy has a store in Playa Chiquita but it’s closed on Sundays. I’ll take the jar to him on Monday. He, she will be okay until then – it clearly ate something recently and the jar has condensation in it and a little mud. Whether I’ll be okay is another matter: I was opening the banana box and a lizard fell on my foot. It was cool and had weight and it slithered. Needless to say I did a little dance which involved flinging the bananas in all directions.