We often underestimate nature and vice versa. I have been brought up to respect nature and all living things.
Snake is one of the most hatred of all living things but I respect snakes. Associated with the devil and Satanic rituals, witchcraft and mysteries of the world, snakes can really scare people. By the same token, snake is also worshipped in cultures where it is believed to be wise and an alluring creature. A creature of good fortune.
I have grown to be interested and more aware of the snake since we moved to our new home outside Brisbane. On our 2.5 acres, there are several different snakes, that are natives to this beautiful land. These include the common carpet snake, the tree snakes and also the venomous Eastern Brown Snake which would kill you with its bite.
When you live amongst snakes and other wild animals, there are special unspoken laws about the places where they call “home” and the places where we call “home”. To some degree, you would like these rules to be respected by all parties concern. That is not to be the case as we found out last week. In my short story “The Duck War”, I re-lived the incident of Tuesday February 18, 2014.
The Duck War
As the sun yoke melted into the distant horizon, the cool breeze finally arrived. It was 6:30pm. We decided to get back into the warm house and order pizza. Too much fun and we were late to make dinner. My older son Nathan had left. His shift started at 5:30 pm. He was working at Pizza Capers so we get a 40% discount. Aunty Kos drove the three the children; her two daughters and my younger son Chris to Pizza Capers to pick up pizza.
I had settled our two pet ducklings into their nest of curled soft wood shavings atop an old baby towel. The nest was inside a large old plastic chest about 150 metres by 50 cm long and 60cm deep. It was secure and warm. The ducks immediately went to sleep. On top of the chest we were three holes smaller than the size of a tennis ball. We had left them opened for air circulation. At night before bed, I would place glass blades from an old fish tank to capture the warmth and keep snakes, rats and other animals out.
The ducklings both wild and rescued from our pool have been out on our veranda for a week. Initially, we raised them in our bath tub. They had been inside the house for the past six weeks. Their siblings died after the first week. Two from drowning and one from fever.
I heard Kos’s Hyundai family car return up the driveway and parked outside. Inside, we ate what they bought back, the delicious pizzas. Everyone fought over their favourites and over ate. The last cuts of pizzas and crusts with teeth marks were left on the table in black cardboard pizza boxes.
Satisfied, the children settled in our comfy brown suede lounge and soon were engrossed in their teenage gibberish. I remained at the dining table with Kos. Our table, a large twin slab of gold hoop pine were interlocked in the centre by two sets of Japanese bow. The bows were made from ebony pieces.
I felt a touch on my feet. I shivered but it was only a slight caress from the evening breeze that slit between the two sliding glass doors.
Kos and I talked about life.
“Knock! knock!”. My older son Nathan interrupted our conversation. He had returned from his shift. It was 9 pm.
Nathan joined his brother and the girls near the couch, three metres away from Kos and I. As the evening wore on I looked at the duck chest and thought about shutting the holes. It was cooling down quickly.
Two minutes later, just past 9pm a movement caught my left eye. I starred through the sliding glass door to the duck chest on our veranda. To my horror I saw a medium sized orange, white and black carpet snake easing itself into one of the airholes in the duck chest. At the speed the snake poured into the chest, I was not sure how big nor long it was. In a second I heard one of the ducklings cry. It was a gentle cry of gasping for air, terror and surrender. The other duckling’s cry was high and alarming.
“Snake!” I screamed.
“Nathan!, Chris! Snake! I called again and ran.
I threw the glass doors open and grabbed the house broom. I beat the middle of the snake with both hands using the broom. The broom handle smashed into the snake’s middle, making a thudding meaty sound. The broom broke. The disappeared into the chest, middle, tail and all.
My son Nathan ran to the chest and tried to open it.
“No!” Don’t open it!”
“Push the chest downstairs!” I screamed at him.
Nathan tried to tip the chest onto the veranda.
“No! Push the chest down the steps. That will give us time to get the duck”.
The chest was very heavy.
Together, Nathan and I pushed the chest down the length of the veranda to the top of the stairs. We edged it and its weight took the chest down 14 steps and hit the ground. It did not tip over.
We heard a duck cry.
We ran down the steps and tried to tip the chest and it fell on its door. Everything was upside down. The door did not open.
“Wrong side!” Nathan screamed.
We both lunged at the chest again. The duck was frantic.
Finally, we forced the chest on its side flipping open and the duck ran to me. She was wet. I picked her up and wrapped her in a towel and ran upstairs. I gave her to my son Chris. I ran back downstairs to Nathan. Nathan tried to move closer and pull the snake off the other duck.
“Don’t touch the snake when it is trying to eat. It will attack you!” I yelled.
I got the broken broom and threw it at the snake. I got another stick and tried to hit the snake off the duck. By now, the snake had tightened its grip; completely constricted the duck’s little body. Her pretty little eyes stared emptily from her little head above a tight coil of python muscle. I stepped back. I was angry. I wanted to get the duck. My friend, her daughters and my sons told me, there was nothing I could, the duck was dead.
I started to yell angrily and cursed the snake. I started to cry in frustration. My son Nathan hugged and told me, the duckling was dead and that was the way it was. I mumbled about all the right things I should have done. I cried. I felt guilt and mortified.
“I should have simply putting the glass over the holes in the duck chest”, I sobbed.
I was so angry and walked tearfully back to where the duck and the snake were in a a crumpled heap amongst the nesting and the sticks we threw at the snake. At this point, I decided, I would not let the snake eat the duck.
I ran upstairs and grabbed the kitchen stove lighter. I ran out the back of the house and headed for the pile of dried rubbish. I lit a dry black palm leaf. I knew it would hold flame for a while. I took the lit palm leaf to the snake and kept poking it angrily so that it would leave the duck. After a good 20 minutes, the snake uncoiled itself from the duck. It only moved half a feet and stopped. It held its long body and small round head up to the flames.
I was mad. I was crying. I kept pushing the snake with the burning palm leaf. My sons yelled that they would kill it but I said “No, “let it go”.
By now, the fire grew stronger on the new green lawn, burning the dried debris. The snake started moving. It slithered towards the bush. I ran to the dead duck grabbed its slimy wet mangled body and cried as I held it to my chest. I wrapped her in Christopher’s baby towel we had used in the duck’s nest. I placed the wrapped duck safely in the bin for burial the next day and went back to chase the snake. With our fire lit palm leaves Nathan and I chased the snake into the nearby bush.
When the snake had finally gone, I came back to the plastic chest and hit it with anger and cried for my duck. I thought of how she nestled in my lap just three hours earlier. I was heart-broken. The girls were in tears and their mother, my friend Kos came and hugged me and we climbed back into the house.
We sat down and everyone started talking about the incident. We were all shaken.
“I did not want it to eat the duck”, I said.
“It killed her but it will not have her”.
“I know! The snake pissed the wrong woman off” my friend Kos said.
“Mum! Mum! The snake is back! I heard my son Nathan call from his room about 15 minutes later. His bedroom overlooks the bush.
Nathan and I ran back downstairs and the snake slithered aggressively towards the house.
My son Chris ran down to us.
“Shall we kill it mum?! Chris asked me.
I said – chase it away. Light the fire!”
I tried to light the fire, but the snake made a B-line for the house. It came towards the steps fast- ignoring the fire. Nathan used the swimming pool pole and flipped it off to the side of the lawn.
The snake turned and came back again.
“He won’t give up”. Nathan said.
“I know!” I said. It knows we have two ducks. It will stop at nothing.
“Kill it!” I said.