Extinguishing my fear is important.
The freshening breeze off the lake flutters the old dark green window shade. This wakes me up. Then I hear Stephen talking to his toys in the next room. Almost three years old, he’s very good about not calling out to me first thing. I guess he’s learned that I’m a happier Mummy if I sleep in a bit. The clock on the bedside table reads 6:42.
Daddy is working in Montreal today. Usually, Stephen and I travel back with him to the city on Sunday afternoons, but not this week. I’m expecting another baby in November, and as I get more rotund the idea of just hanging out in this heavenly refuge with my sweet kid was too appealing to resist. As usual, the summer’s just flying by.
The second I gently open his bedroom door and he notices me through the bars of his crib, he pulls himself to his feet and says, “Hi Mummy!” We plan to move him into a big-boy bed well before the baby comes.
After using the bathroom and dressing into tee-shirts and shorts, we slowly walk down the long flight of uncarpeted stairs holding hands. My other hand grips the banister. He takes just one stair at a time, always leading with his right foot so progress is slow. The steep stairs are a bit scary.
When we reach the kitchen, I put the kettle on to make his favourite breakfast – instant oatmeal with brown sugar. Although it’s mid-August in Vermont, there’s a chill in the air. This lakeside cottage is
shaded by many tall pines to the east, so it takes several hours for the brilliant sun to position itself overhead and warm the interior.
This is a very old cottage, having been built in 1922. The kitchen’s little cast-iron wood-burning stove is likely the same vintage. Its footprint is about 3 feet by 1½ feet and there are two circular burners in the
top. I use a special tool to remove a lid to check on the fire’s progress, but of course only cold, grey ashes line the bottom at the moment.
We use a 1950s era propane gas stove for cooking, so the cast-iron one is only needed for warmth. It burns logs that have been split and sawn exactly the right length to fit. There’s a small door at one end for inserting kindling and firewood and removing the cold ashes when they accumulate. Just enough smoke escapes to provide a delightful scent during an active fire. Building a breakfast-time fire is one of my favourite rituals.
Firewood is stored in a built-in bench with a moveable lid, or wood box. When people sit on the lid, a large window behind them displays a gorgeous view of the lake. The lid is made of 1920s tongue-and groove wood with metal hinges. We painted it navy blue last year and added splashes of red and navy blue to other parts of the kitchen to enliven the décor.
Stephen sits in his chair doing some colouring, while I build a fire and fix breakfast. To get firewood, I stroll over to the wood box and prepare to lift the lid. I freeze.
An 18-inch-long garter snake lies motionless on top of the lid. Like many people, I find snakes extremely unnerving – especially when they surprise me like this. My heart pounds like a jackhammer.
Stephen hasn’t yet noticed the snake. “Oh look, sweetie,” I say as calmly as I can.“We have a visitor! I wonder how he got into the house.”
Earlier in the week a violent thunderstorm had wakened us both, and I’d had to settle my toddler crying in fear. Crashes of thunder had been unnervingly close to our house, coming barely a second after the lightning flashes, and I was petrified – to be frank. We sleep in antique metal beds, after all.
That night, by calmly taking him downstairs at 3 am for juice, cookies, and a story, I’d successfully acted my way through trauma. This morning, I recognize another opportunity to prevent passing on my own fears. My terror of snakes is irrational in this part of the world. Role-playing had worked with a storm, so I decide to repeat that performance. I’ll pretend I find snakes adorable...
My little boy is enthralled and gets down off his chair to have a closer look. The snake is dark green with several white stripes running along his body. Lying in an s-curve on top of the wood box, I doubt his bite
would be poisonous. He was certainly no rattlesnake.
“Oh Mummy, can we keep him?” he asks excitedly.
“No, we can’t. He’ll be much happier outside. He probably lives under the woodshed. That’s why we’ve never seen him before. Now, I wonder how we can get him safely back outside.”
I desperately try to figure out a method before he slithers away under the refrigerator or something. I notice a metal dustpan and broom sitting under the sink and pick them up.
The opening of the screened kitchen door is restricted by the waist-level metal spring that keeps it shut. It takes some force for me to position the door wide enough for a quick departure with my pregnant belly and I call over Stephen to hold it open for me.
Using a honeyed tone, I say, “Now, you just stand here holding the door open please. You’re such a big help!”
I grab the dustpan, rest it flat on the wood box near the snake, and try to use its little broom to sweep the visitor onto the dustpan. It hooks its tail around the hinge which protrudes about half an inch above the lid! Fighting down my panic, I try again – this time more forcefully. Whew! I successfully transfer him (or her) into a disheveled coil on the dustpan.
After rushing through the open door, I hurl the snake about six feet onto the carpet of pine needles surrounding the cottage.
“Oh look…there he goes,” I say merrily. Stephen watches in awe as he slithers off under the woodshed. He runs over and leans down to peer under the structure to see where the snake went. He’s nowhere to be seen.
“Now, let’s have breakfast.” He continues to talk about Sammy Snake for the rest of the morning. Where does he live? What does he eat? Does he have a family? Why can’t I keep him? How did he get into our house? God only knows.
When Daddy arrives the following afternoon, Stephen babbles away to him about the snake that wanted to come for breakfast with us.
“But Mummy wouldn’t let him stay!” True.