River Garden Diaries: And then the Snake (and the Rain) Came

One morning a few weeks back, as I sat with my morning coffee, I opened a book randomly to a poem called Snake, by D.H Laurence. In the poem Laurence is visited on a hot day by a snake, drinking from the same water trough as him. He is mesmerised and tormented: ‘And voices in me said, If you were a man / You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.’ The poem documents his reverence and fear, his awe and “education”, in responding to his reptilian visitor. A few hours after reading the poem, with snakes slithering around my mind, a diamond python arrived in our front garden.

The snake arranged itself in a coil between two lomandras. Then the rain began. After a few days of grey, wet weather it made its way underneath our house. All I could see was its tail sticking out from between pieces of hardwood salvaged from our home renovations. Actually, do snakes have tails? Is a snake just one big tail?

About five days after the snake’s appearance I was on the phone to my mum, looking under the house so I could give her a snake update (it was big news in our house). The snake was nowhere to be seen. I climbed the stairs up to our deck and glanced over to my makeshift plant nursery underneath our kitchen window (a collection of plants/cuttings in pots sitting on a shelf made of milk crates and old timber boards). A pot had been turned onto its side.

As I chatted to mum, I reached over to turn it upright and there, a few centimeters away, was THE SNAKE curled up neatly on top of a small pot of Hoya longifolia.”

And there stayed the snake. For a week, in fact. We called her Slow Mo, not due to a likeness to our esteemed prime minister, ScoMo, but because she is just very slow (to clarify, I have no idea what gender the snake is, and it doesn’t matter, except that I feel it’s kinder to say her/him instead of it. So, Slow Mo can be a she, for now).

There were a few position changes over the week, which enabled me to shuffle plants out of her way. The Hoya longifolia, though, seemed to be her preferred plant. The Kalanchoe tomentosa, her second favourite. Every morning I’d stick my head out the door to see if she was still there. Sometimes her head would be dangling down between the timber boards, other times she’d be stretched out along the top of the pots. At the start, I was a bit worried about my plants, but soon I stopped bothering. I was transfixed.

I found myself sitting with the snake every day. I sat and I stared and stared. I soon realised that snakes don’t blink. They sleep with their eyes open. I learned lots of things by looking at her. She was/is magnificent. I got more confident being near her, and after a few days I was gently lifting her tail (?) off my most favourite Hoya obovata. Slowly, slowly I removed the plants from her path.

Meanwhile, the rain continued. Our tanks filled, and the garden began waking up.  My heart lightened. A month earlier I was a broken gardener. My vegetable garden/temple had been desecrated by antechinus or rats, or both. A long dry winter of nursing a limping little garden along had been wasted in a few nights of small hairy animal feasting.

The boatload of native plants I’d bought a month earlier, sitting stockpiled in a wallaby proof enclosure next to the vegetable garden, were a daily reminder of my sometimes ridiculous optimism, my romanticism. The soil was so dry even the weeds were struggling, and here I was with 150 small pots of hope and beauty. I began planting them out because I didn’t know what else to do. It was too cold for the snake then, but golly she was in my mind (she’d spent a week in our garden last year, too) primarily as a form of biological rodent/mini-marsupial control in my veggie garden.

And so, I gardened like a mad woman. And so, the snake came, and the rain came. And like the weeds, I began photosynthesising. Hope, and chlorophyll, had returned, heralded by a very slow moving diamond python called Mo.

The garden is still ugly and rough and wild, but it’s green, and somehow that makes all the difference.”

Towards the end of the poem, Snake, D. H Laurence succumbs to his mind, his smallness, by throwing a ‘clumsy log’ at the snake. His last lines are full of regret:

And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life
And I have something to expiate;
A pettiness.

Our visitor was a queen, a gift. I watched her make her departure through the milk cartons and down under the house on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back. I thought she’d gone. But the next morning she was back again, curled up in a tight circle on the timber board. She continued her dance of departure and arrival for a few days until a sunny Tuesday. I went inside for lunch after saying hello to her on the hoya on the way through the front door, and within 20 minutes she had left. For good.

I hope she comes back, our queen of the underworld.

PS. Diamond pythons are not venomous. They’re native to the Sydney region, and from my experience, very quiet, very beautiful snakes.