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28 May 2006 @ 08:20 pm
Snake in the grass  

Meditations on yard maintenance and wildlife.

I'm not sure exactly why it caught my eye. I'd been seeing catepillars all over the West 40, and when I hauled the latest round of collected yard clippings to the Compost Corner, I first thought I was just seeing another one. (My sense of scale has always been lacking.) I knew better once I looked at it fully, of course, but my next thought was that it was just a stick. I finally realized it was an actual, honest-to-goodness snake.

My first reaction was panic, naturally -- snakes are dangerous! Caution! But as I realized I was in no danger of stepping on or near it, and that it was probably just a simple grass snake, and that it wasn't moving, I quickly calmed down. I tried to get an idea of its size and shape and coloration and had a bad moment when I noticed the kink at one end: was it dead? Had I hurt it somehow?

But then I made out the head, and I then I saw it breathing, and it was just so cool.

The house wasn't even twenty steps away, and the camera was right inside the door, but the snake was gone by the time I raced back. I searched carefully but to no avail.

Any homeowner's association would hate me.

I'm never home from work before about 7pm, so only weekends are left for any but the smallest yardwork tasks. This means I can't mow more frequently than once a week; if it rains, I have even fewer opportunities. I know from sad experience not to let the grass get knee-high, but it's already been a good six inches twice this year. I also mow high, though today I had to shift down from the highest possible setting on the mower to the next one down. I leave raggedy patches around any non-grass plant I find attractive or interesting enough to mow around.

My yard management strategy is primarily one of benign neglect. I don't generally fertilize the grass; I paid a company for that last year, but half the yard certainly doesn't need it and the other half may be beyond hope (though I did try spot applications of seed and fertilizer this spring, with appropriately spotty results). I don't water the grass, and I only water the shrubs and trees from the water collectors to establish them (or from the hose in times of extended drought).

I do not use weed control except for manual weeding. (I did break down this year and buy organic fertilizer with corn meal gluten, to try to stem the tide of dandelions a bit, but I waited too late and will have to wait until next year to apply it.) I do not use any form of pesticides except for milky spore (grubs), service-applied garlic spray (mosquitos), and BT dunks (mosquito larvae).

So I am caught between the East Side Dandelions and the South Side Red Sorrel in their turf war. (Groan, I know.) After weeks of false reports from skittish scouts, I now have a confirmed sighting of a division of poison ivy approaching from the north. The ragweed and nightshade and poke haven't returned this year (so far), but I keep battling horseweed and lambsquarters. The mile-a-minute and greenbriar have so far been tamed, but I expect them to rally any time. I will uproot the last of the cursed Japanese barberry if it kills me (which, given its root tenacity and vicious thorns, it just might).

The catepillar infestation is much worse than I had thought. This year, their intermural challenge against the Unknown Species of Iridescent Blue-Green Beetle is to see which group can ex-foliate (groan again) the pussywillow. They're taking this challenge more seriously than some Sox-Yankees games. I have grubs and beetles, yellow jackets and hornets, and an ant colony in the farthest corner that is so huge it frankly scares me a little.

But I also have wood sorrel and buttercups, barren strawberry and/or cinquefoil, violets, wild roses, wild blackberries, Canadian mayflower, milkweed, clover, moss. I have bluets (or did until the Back Neighbor "wandered" a full mower-width over the property line a couple of days ago, which means that silent battle is rejoined, sigh). The dandelions are beautiful before they go to seed. I have several other cute little wildflowers I can't yet identify or have forgotten the names of. These are in addition to the plants I've deliberately installed and the trees and flowering privet that have been here for years. They all make my yard interesting and beautiful (and the length of the grass makes it look greener than the Back Neighbor's frequently and closely mown terrain).

And this variety of nifty plants means that I get wildlife and good insects: birds and squirrels, ladybugs (by the score!), bees, butterflies
So many lilac blooms, so little time ...
(first one showed up today!), frogs like the one I guided towards the woods the last time I mowed. And the occasional snake.

(Which will probably eat the tiny frog if it finds it. So it goes.)

So the managed suburbanites can keep their thrice-weekly buzz-cut mowing regimen. They can keep their pesticides, herbicides, daily waterings, frequent fertilizings, annual dethatchings, all of the dozens of things they spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on in order to turn their lawns into lifeless, soul-deadening golf course replicas.

I'll stick with what I've got.

I'd been mowing for four hours when I finished the areas with any kind of shade. I went to dump the last batch of grass ...

Say 'aaaah'!

... and it was back.
Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
introverteintroverte on May 29th, 2006 03:04 am (UTC)
At least you don't have kudzu. :-)
michelel72michelel72 on May 29th, 2006 07:15 am (UTC)
Or sumac, or Japanese knotweed (shudder). And bad as the barberry is, it's no giant hogweed! It is good to remember what problems I don't have!
E.T. Davidoffvettecat on May 29th, 2006 04:36 am (UTC)
Great butterfly picture! And it sounds like you're doing a good job keeping up, all things considered.
michelel72michelel72 on May 29th, 2006 07:18 am (UTC)
Thanks! This is my justification for my digital camera -- I can take dozens of pictures in order to get a couple of good ones, and I have the results immediately! Very convenient.
Amy- ninja extraordinaire, bad monkeyninjamonkey73 on May 30th, 2006 01:19 pm (UTC)
Impressive all around...
Wow! That is some command of wild plant names. I have a few different ones overtaking my lawn, but apart from the buttercups and dandelions, I haven't bothered to find their names and religious affiliations. Great pictures, but the snake is creeping me out a little... 8')
michelel72michelel72 on May 30th, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
A good, well-illustrated plant identification book helps significantly.

The snake is your friend. He just wants to sniff you.
sings and wandersvioletcheetah on May 30th, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
actually, the bluets had stopped blooming when i ran the reel mower for that one swath on the other side of the shrubs, so i didn't mow around them. i think they are just a spring-blooming thing and are done.

nifty butterfly.