Thursday, October 28, 2010


Snakes are easy pets.  They eat infrequently, and their poop, while nasty, also occurs infrequently.  They require water and special lights on a timer, and a good secure, escape-proof cage.  They appreciate a place to hide, a log to bask on, and being left alone.  You do have to buy a particular kind of bark mulch, because some mulch has naturally occurring chemicals in it that is bad for snakes.  I am busy and unwilling to learn the details of which mulch, relying instead upon the packaging to show me a picture of a corn snake on the bag of mulch.  Once, after buying a bag of the appropriate mulch, I dumped it into the snake’s cage only to find that there was a baby snake in it.  Now I think of myself as an unsqueamish person, but a surprise snake made me scream.  I went and found the house-painter, who was way up a ladder outside and made him hold Basil while I figured out what to do with the stow-away.  The painter was not even politely happy about it.  In the end, we got him his own cage, and named him Moses because clearly he had been trying to lead his kind to freedom.  Moses was no bigger than a pencil, and very wild.  He looked very much like Basil, and for that matter the corn snake on the bag of mulch he came in.  No doubt he found his way there having escaped his cage.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Years passed.  Basil grew.  There were times when the snake’s appetite seemed off.  There were other times when it would throw up the meal after a couple of days, and I can tell you that nothing, not a dead gerbil or dog vomit, nothing smells as bad as a decaying mouse that’s been barfed up by a snake. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Not everyone in the house felt wholly positive about there being a snake captive in their midst.  The dogs found it scary when it was loosed in the bathtub for monthly cage cleanings.  My husband didn’t mind if it was there, but really wouldn’t look at it or hold it.  One of the boys was able to hold it, but the others made it rigid and frantic.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


So when it came time to feed Basil the first time after it had outgrown the frozen supply of pinky mice, I had a hard time following Apollonia’s instructions.  There would be no killing of mice by me.  Basil would have to do it.  And Basil did it. It was gruesome and amazing to see.  First the snake would notice that something was going on.  Then it would lick the air in that snaky way.  Then it would start to move in a roundabout sense towards but not towards whatever it thought it could smell or taste.  When it attacked, it grabbed the mouse with its mouth (this is called “striking”) and brought the center of its body on to coil around it and give it a good hard killing squeeze.  And then the mouse would be dead and the swallowing would begin.  Sometimes there would be a squeak on the part of the mouse, often the feet and tail were swallowed last, and from time to time it would be a less than noiseless affair.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In high school, I took Animal Behavior one term and had a big clever white rat with red eyes I named Harvey.  Harvey spent some time in the Skinner box and under my tutelage learned an elaborate pattern involving pressing the bar and turning around and pressing the bar again (then there would be a pellet) Hooray!  Before the final presentation though, I got bronchitis and missed a week of school and by the time I came back the rat had died.

Monday, October 18, 2010


There was a gerbil, finally, and this one put my rodent love away for good.  It was the smelliest, nasty bitingest creature yet, and it ran all night on the wheel, necessitating it being put in the bathroom I shared with my brother.  One day suddenly it was dead, perhaps from inadequate care I think I was old enough to have known how to do a good job with it and I do remember feeling especially bad about it.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Another story my mother told involved the disappearance of a hamster.  Long after he vanished, she was to make the discovery of the home the renegade hamster had made in six or seven inches of fancy dress clothes hung together in a garment bag; he had drilled a perfectly straight, hamster-sized hole through the shoulder of each garment.  My mother liked to tell that story.  Sometimes she would embellish with details of finding a skeleton, but I do not think that was true. This story is the only reason I have any memory of the hamster; I do not remember the animal’s name.