Snake on the Road (and Behind the Wheel!)

A.V. Walters

I was driving into town today and saw a dead snake on the side of the road. It was a big snake, maybe three feet long. Driving by, I couldn’t tell what kind of a snake it was, not that I’m an ophidian expert. But I do know that snakes fill an important niche in the ecosystem. Admittedly, I’d wouldn’t want a rattlesnake close to the house or anything but for the most part, like most creatures, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. What disturbed me about this snake was that it had been run over. It was well over on the side of the road, squished flat in two spots; so somebody had to have aimed at it. Since generally folks don’t go driving on the shoulder, I guess that, seeing the snake sunning itself on the edge of the road, the driver veered off the roadbed proper to kill it. It wasn’t near where anyone lived–sort of an open fields area. So why go to the trouble to kill a snake that wasn’t posing any danger to anybody in particular?

The stretch of road between here and town is a pretty dangerous place for wildlife. I know, a deer hit me there, just a few weeks ago. In the paper-scissors-rock game of survival, it doesn’t matter who started it, the car has the clear advantage. On any given day there are several roadkill victims along that stretch, mostly deer and possum, with the occasional raccoon or skunk thrown in. These though, are accident victims. I don’t get the feeling that anyone is aiming at the poor possums. (But, given what I saw today I might have to adjust my thinking on that.) Unfortunately for them, their stress coping mechanism (passing out and  “playing possum”) may work well for those predators who won’t eat dead meat, but it’s just not working with the yokels in pick-ups, crowd.

I’m squeamish about spiders, so I can understand that some people might have their hesitations about a particular species. I’ll dispatch a spider if it’s in the house. But I hold my breath, and go on about my business, when I encounter them outside. They, too, have their place.

I understand we have a lone (and lonely) wolf that’s made the news in Northern California. He’s tagged with a tracking collar. Apparently he roamed south from Oregon, in search of a mate. That wolf has a hinky sense of direction, as there aren’t any prospective partners for him down our way. There’s been an outcry from some of the locals in that area–against the wolf–so much so that the wildlife researchers studying him have to be careful not to release any real-time information about his whereabouts. The anti-wolf contingent would go out of their way to hunt him down. Some are ranchers, concerned for their livestock. Some are hunters, worried that the wolf will kill something they might’ve wanted to kill first. The wolf’s scat reveals that he mostly eats rodents and small critters along with the occasional deer, not exactly your big game opportunity. Some people don’t like wolves on principle. Even the fairy tales treat wolves unfairly. Our language picks on them, too, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” or “a wolf at the door.” (And, of course, the reference to a predatory male of our species.)

I’m having trouble with that. What makes us think that we should be the arbiters of what is, or isn’t a desirable species? That snake was just minding his own business when, out of nowhere, somebody decided to snuff out his existence. Up until that moment, it had been a pretty good day. (For me and the snake.)