Sunday, January 31, 2010
St Patrick’s Enemies
There are no snakes in Ireland. Most people know this and the story of how St Patrick ran them off the island. It is a remarkable feature, somewhat making up for the day long rain shower or grey summer day.
I grew up in East Texas. St Patrick never set foot in the piney woods and the marshy lands there are rife with snakes. When people think of Texas, it is the rattlesnake slipping through the harsh desert--tongue flicking, rattling tail a warning of his dangerous presence--that usually comes to mind.
As a girl I was most afraid of the cotton-mouth or water moccasin that lived in the small pond on my Aunt Barb's farm. They're called cotton-mouths because when they open wide to hiss and show their fangs, inside is pure white, almost blue like fresh milk. Or cotton as the name suggests.
There was a path around the pond overgrown with sugar cane, standing in crowded clumps on the banks, yielding sugary syrup when broken. We would play around the pond, chewing on the sweet reedy insides of the sugar cane, imagining ourselves as wild things, pirates, explorers of unchartered land. But always in the back of my mind were the long shiny snakes that would lie among the cane and then quickly slide into the murky water and swim around, heads sticking out of the water as their bodies trailed behind in a smooth swish.
Home from school one afternoon we encountered a fat rattlesnake sunning herself on our paving stones. She met a quick end thanks to my mother. And if you ever went for a walk in the woods, you took care when stepping over felled logs and sidestepped large rocks for fear of one of St Patrick's enemies being rudely awakened from a cozy nest underneath.
All this is to say that when I first moved here I could not get used to the no snakes thing. When we would hike with the kids I'd always check the ground as we went. Sticks lying on the path would startle me and I continued to step wide over logs. Sitting on tree trunks for a picnic I would scan the area for any signs of rattling leaves. I'm finally, after nearly 5 years, used to it. And it's bliss. The only dangers here are stinging nettles and soggy shoes.
So, number one on my list of 'things I will miss about Ireland' has to be no snakes.
above photo: a hike with no worries