Tag Archives: snake

Shadow in the Chook Shed

If you are looking for your own motivational cheer squad, perhaps you should consider moving into a chook shed, where even the most routine happenings are cause for raucous celebration!

Still on holidays at the farm at Newrybar, we were feasting on mulberries out on the back verandah soaking in the incredible greenery when we we heard a crescendo of feverish clucking emanating from the chook shed.

My immediate thought was snake. After all, the chooks were making a hell of a ruckus and after spotting the venomous Black Snake in the garden only a few days ago, I’ve been seeing snakes everywhere since.

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.”

SOPHOCLES, Acrisius [fragment

Of course, a snake in the chook shed seemed like quite a feasible possibility. After all, what kind of snake wouldn’t be partial to a bit of chook and from the numerous stories I’ve heard, they’ve nabbed chooks in the past.

Meanwhile, the kids’ uncle, always keen to educate the kids about things on the farm (a process I call “farmification”) asked them: “Why did the chooks make that noise?”

Right on queue like a primed quiz contestant, Mister piped up: “A chook laid an egg”.

He was right on the money and I felt a little bit disappointed that I’d got it wrong and wondered whether I was starting to get a bit too paranoid about the snakes.

At the same time however, I had to wonder about the chooks making so much fuss over simply laying an egg. Hadn’t they seen an egg before? That’s certainly how it sounded. Gee, I’m not sure whether chooks are like goldfish and only have a 5 second memory but you’d swear they’d never seen an egg before.

Or, that their team had just scored the winning goal in the footy grand final.

However, Geoff, who never lets my love of hyperbole get in the way of the facts, said: “But what happens whenever you see a group of women huddled around a new baby?”

Humph even I had to admit they could get pretty raucous as well!

However, it turned out that the chooks didn’t have a monopoly on melodrama. That night, the rooster who is never one to hide in the shadows, pushed passed the hens and back onto centre stage.

I was half-asleep when I heard noises outside. First, there was the spooked rantings of the Guinea Fowl whose call sounds something like a duck impersonating a donkey. This was followed by a series of very mournful crows from the rooster. This didn’t sound good. It didn’t sound good at all!! Guinea fowl are very territorial and defensive and therefore make excellent snake alarms. Given the sequence of sounds, I figured the Guinea fowl had seen a snake which had got into the chook shed and eaten the rooster’s harem and now he was now singing “All By Myself”.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a snake had invaded the chook shed or perhaps it was a fox which had attacked with such devastating results but either way, I suspected that all the chooks were dead.

So there I was lying in bed while the chooks were under attack and a snake was on the loose. Did I finally hear that heroic call to action and leap from my bed and grabbing a huge, humungus stick, run yelling and screaming and probably barefoot through the yard finally coming to the rescue ?

Or, did I stay put. Go back to sleep.

Of course, I went back to sleep. Who do you take me for? Some death-defying Bindi Irwin or Crocodile Dundee scaring off snakes in my bare feet? Not on your life. While I might be a firm believer in the Golden Rule and not one to ignore the sufferings of others, there are times when nature simply has to take its course. When you don’t want be rescuing the rescuer as well.

Besides, I told myself, it was probably already too late. There was nothing I could do anyway. The chooks were already dead.

Eventually, I went back to sleep.

The morning after the carnage, I sheepishly asked my brother-in-law how many chooks they’d lost overnight. I braced myself for the worst and dreaded having to tell him that I’d heard it all happen and did nothing about it. I did nothing at all to help save those poor, innocent chooks before that fiendish snake snatched them away to their death. This amounts to some kind of personal treason because I really try to live and breathe by the Golden Rule and if I was a chook being swallowed by a diamond python, I’d definitely want someone to get out of bed and whack that @#$% snake with whatever it took to save my life. That’s what you do.You don’t ignore it!

After all, it’s an ancient farm motto: “The only good snake, is a dead snake”.

However, my inquiry and incredible guilt were met with blank stares. Once again, he’d thought I’d gone stark raving mad and was probably rethinking whether city relatives should be allowed anywhere near the farm. It was like I was reporting back about a foreign film. The sort which don’t have sub-titles and the meaning somehow gets lost in the translation.

I explained how I’d heard the Guinea Fowl barking and the rooster howling during the night and suspected the worst.

Fortunately, everyone in the chook shed and the Guinea Fowl had been accounted for. There had been not midnight massacre in at all and definitely not the dire snake attack I’d envisaged.

It had simply been a full moon.

Please don’t ask me why the full moon sent them all troppo. It’s not like I can go and interview them demanding a “please explain!” I’ll just have to file this under one of life’s many, unexplained mysteries…especially as we don’t have Internet access and I can’t go and consult my Google Guru.I’m on my own.

know all this thinking about snakes and shadows sounds like the product of an over-active imagination but the snakes are real.We know they’re out there. I’m not talking about make-believe shadows and imaginary monsters. This is real. However, it is a matter of learning to live with the snakes, developing respect and watching where I’m going. Indeed, given the snakes are a known threat, they’re actually not so great a risk. It’s what we don’t know we don’t know which is much more likely to get us!

xx Rowena

Snake Bait

“Quick kids! Get inside! There’s a Black Snake out there. No! Don’t run. Just walk. Watch where you’re going. Think!”

Isn’t that how any normal parent would react if there was a venomous Black Snake anywhere near their precious kids?!!

Of course!

But…NOT yours truly! I all but yawned and kept eating my Weetbix. I didn’t raise the alarm at all!! Without my morning caffeine boost, I was “non compos mentis”, mostly dead but still somehow alive….a virtual zombie. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I’d seen a sliver of Black Snake slithering through the freshly mowed grass and under the barbed-wire fence and into the cow paddock next door. Australian Geographic rates the Black Snake as Australia’s 10th most deadly snake and while unlikely to kill you, the venom causes blood-clotting disorder and muscle and nerve damage, enough to knock you off your feet http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2012/07/australias-10-most-dangerous-snakes/

Although I registered seeing the snake, I blinked and it was gone. It didn’t seem real. More like a hallucination or apparition than the potentially life-threatening emergency it was…a deadly snake!

I kept eating my Weetbix.It takes a long time for me to wake up in the morning and switch from my surreal dream state into someone remotely functional.

Stopping to photograph the sugar cane and the approaching storm clouds near Grafton.

Stopping to photograph the sugar cane and the approaching storm clouds near Grafton.

Although Geoff had driven the entire way to Byron Bay, being a passenger also took its toll on me. Even after a good night’s sleep, I could still feel the car’s rumbling vibrations pulsating through me, the long-distance driving equivalent of “sea legs”. It also takes me a good day to adjust to my new surroundings, even though Geoff’s sister’s place is our home away from home. Just call me “slow”…even cold-blooded.

Anyway, Geoff stuck his head through the door, probably to check whether I was still alive, when he spotted the snake out the window. A man of action, unlike his more philosophical wife, he went straight outside to raise the alarm. The kids were out there picking mulberries and while they weren’t near the snake, there were no guarantees that “Joe Blake” (Australian rhyming slang for snake) didn’t have a few mates also sunning themselves out there in the grass.

What nobody usually tells you about Byron Bay and the surrounding regions is that they’re populated with snakes. Sure, they might not be found grinning on local postcards and there certainly aren’t any “Beware of the Snake” signs anywhere either. These are the sort of thing you leave out of your tourism brochures and “Welcome to Byron Bay” greetings. Not good for tourism.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Geoff grew up on a farm in NE Tasmania where his Dad wasn’t the only one who boasted “the only good snake is a dead snake”. Dad’s brother had been bitten by a snake out in the bush when he was a boy and in Tasmania, any kind of snake is deadly poisonous, especially to a kid. So, this was quite a serious, life-threatening incident, which stayed with him for life. There was another story where Dad had spotted a Tiger Snake in the paddock at work. Dad was heading for the shed to find his gun but the snake, who was equally spooked and looking for “an out”, also took off down the paddock. Indeed, the snake was apparently keeping pace with Dad in what must have been the incarnation of his very worst fears, although I can’t help seeing it as a cross-country race with a difference. Yikes! They’re made of strong stuff down there in Tassie!

So, when it came to dealing with snakes, Geoff was no novice.

Although Geoff was quick off the mark to warn the kids, he didn’t press the panic button. He walked calmly because you don’t run around snakes. You stand still and pretend to be a tree. Besides, we’re quite used to snakes being around the farm. That said, when it comes to live snakes out on the loose, we’ve only seen the more benign carpet snake, which used to be curled up in the rafters in the garage, looking about as energetic as Homer Simpson in front of the TV eating donuts. Yet, just because we haven’t seen snakes out in the grass, that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen the evidence such as a six foot snake skin left dangling from the barbed wire fence overnight. There are also the stories and I’m not talking about the bush equivalent of the urban myth but first-hand, local accounts. One mum we knew had found a snake curled up underneath her son’s Tonka truck one morning. She found it because locals check under everything. Snakes don’t discriminate. Anything could be a potential “home”.

Anyway, the kids were outside picking mulberries and I can just imagine the deep purple juice staining their lips and running down their fingers. Mulberry picking is such a quintessential part of childhood like Twinkle Twinkle, wobbly-falling out teeth and Summers at the beach. Of course, none of these glorious visions include a poisonous, potentially deadly Black Snake lurking in the grass and an ambulance ride to Emergency.

Yummy mulberries.

Yummy mulberries.

Turns out the kids weren’t keen on any close encounters with snakes either. Once Geoff had told them about the snake, they promptly decided they had enough mulberries and came inside to eat the fruits of the harvest. Phew!

The kids eating the mulberries they'd picked on the farm, while I spotted a snake.

The kids eating the mulberries they’d picked on the farm, while I spotted a snake.

Unfortunately, this didn’t mean the snake saga was over as such. It was more like a mutual stand off. After all, the snake probably didn’t want to see us anymore than we wanted to see it…a form of mutual “respect”.

Have you had any encounters with dangerous local wildlife? Do tell!

xx Rowena

PS I’m now home and in the process of typing up all my tales from last week. I didn’t have a computer with me and they’re all hand-written in the journal which might sound rustically romantic but it’s a pain getting them sorted out.