The only connection among the dozen or so of us, the only sinew that ties us in any obvious way, has nothing to do with writing, the purpose for this gathering. It is critters that connect us. Each and every one of us has at least one varmint visitor in the quarters set aside for us but left so often vacant. They range from the common mouse that wakens by swimming in the sink water soaking the night’s dishes to huge carpenter ants that rain from the ceiling onto the bed. The solitary cricket hidden somewhere that chirped only at night and then ceaselessly. A huge palmetto bug, a gigantic cockroach if you are not the host, so large that its scratching against the baseboard draws the writer’s attention and she, for a moment, mistakes it for a baby mouse before she screams.

For me, it is a coven of ringneck milk snakes who waken me from a sound sleep with the crinkling of a plastic bag sliding across the floor. As I snap the light on, they drip from the top of the stone chimney and slither in groups of two, three, more across the floor. Others scale the chimney and puddle on the hearth. Dozens everywhere, though not yet in the bed, which I fear they will seek out as the warmest place in this chilly cabin. Those caught in the bag contort and crumple it as they skin across the wood floor.

I cringe and cower, but there is no one else in this solitary cabin a quarter mile from the main lodge, and I wouldn’t wake the host at 1:41 a.m. There’s nothing for it but to jump up, throw the door wide, and sweep them tumbling off the chimney and hearth, across the floor, bag and all, and out into the darkened beyond. Slam the door. Bolt it, as if that bars their entry.

“Oh my heavens,” one writer says the next morning. “I never could’ve stayed there. I never would’ve …” But the host interjects. “They’re just milk snakes. Harmless. There’s no way to keep them out. Maybe put them in your book?”

“Garter Snakes” by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region is marked with CC PDM 1.0

October 2009

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