Diamonds in the Garden
Peter’s garden was renowned locally for its variety and verdancy, especially when the ornamentals started blooming. He was happy to conduct tours for the neighbors when they stopped by to take in all that color and beauty. The pageantry was further expanded because the garden was laid out on a south facing slope, into which Peter had carved steps, emulating the ancient Incas. Here he was growing produce where before there had been nothing but manzanitas.
Some of those steps were totally enveloped by the vegetables that were planted. The winter squash and pumpkins were knee high and spread out so thickly, there was no ground visible. The strawberries and cucumbers were exactly the same, and really only the tomatoes, in their sculpted fenced rings, escaped the semblance of organized jungle. Actually, quite a bit of wildlife could be encountered, if a person were patient enough.
Fortunately, four domestic cats patrolled the garden around the clock, more than happy to feast on the denizens contained within. The cats were want to leave their hapless victims deposited at the back door to the ranch-styled house. These included mice, voles, moles, gophers, and the occasional wood rat. They went after lizards, skinks, birds, and old Satchel had even nabbed a baby rabbit one day, but had been prevented from toying with it, through some quick action by Peter, who was repulsed by the thought that the cat would torture the poor bunny mercilessly before he killed it. For whatever reason, knowing the cat did the same to its other victims, did not impact Peter in the same manner.
When Charlie had arrived a few minutes before, Peter had just come in from the heat, and was filling up a tall glass with iced cold lemonade, a staple in his household from May through October. Later on in the afternoon, he was inclined to add a little gin, if it was handy, but if he started now, he would be sleeping by three. He offered Charlie some lemonade, which he gratefully accepted.
Charlie said, “Hot one, ain’t it, for only June? Snakes will be out. I hate them varmints-one thing I can’t get used to up here.” He had relocated after his retirement, and moved here on the ridge, coming up from SoCal, where he had worked in a factory for thirty years. Peter never understood how a body could do that to himself, but figured that Charlie had made it up here now and that was all that mattered.
“Oh snakes don’t eat much, and besides, when they do, it’s likely to be an enemy of the garden. I expect you’d like them too, if you could see the damage a gopher can do if you aren’t careful.”
“Well, I am always careful, when it comes to snakes. Looks like things is growing pretty good out there.” Charlie was gazing out the window, down on the still-producing strawberries.
“Why don’t you take your glass and head out? I’ll be right behind; I gotta open a couple of valves and shut off a pump. Be back in five.”
Charlie went out through the screen door, letting it thwack gently behind him, the sound fitting into the setting as ideally as the lemonade. Charlie made his way down a main artery, branching off when he saw the eggplants. They were truly magnificent. So immersed was he in his self-conducted tour, that he didn’t realize he had moved out of view from the kitchen window, as he made his way along the pole beans, stretching up along the hemp line, which was strung along from fence post to fence post, giving the string beans an appropriate stage, upon which to perform.
The beans were so prolific, they actually formed an arbor of sorts, with there being a covered passage between each of the fence posts. It was an exhilarating experience, to be completely surrounded and embraced by this vibrant, burgeoning greenery. He stooped down to get a closer look at a cluster of beans that he swore were ten inches long, when something moved. He both saw it, and felt it, as it slithered across his foot, which was not visible though the leaves of the plants.
He felt an icy sensation down his back as he once more spotted the movement, and made the connection that it was indeed a snake that he had encountered out here amidst the string beans. Long and willowy, just like those beans he had just been examining. Only this long form had oddly-shaped diamonds running down its length, and when Charlie attempted to withdraw his foot, it hissed at him, scaring the bejabbers out of him, and making him panic.
Adrenalin pumped through him and made his face turn red. His breathing came in rapid gasps, and his pulse quickened. Where the hell was Peter? He had said five minutes, but five minutes had long since elapsed, and there was no sign of him. Should he yell? NO! What an idiotic thing to think, he said to himself. That’s all he needed. He felt the sweat trickling down from under his armpits, making him want to rub it dry, only he was afraid to move.
His parched mouth suddenly yearned for the lemonade, sitting over on a low rock wall, set there only a moment earlier, when he had wanted to further explore the arbor. His mouth worked to form the words that would bring Peter out to him, without antagonizing the snake. Without warning, the reptile thrust its head out from the broad leaves, flattening its head into the classic triangular shape that indicated a poisonous viper. Charlie had never been so scared in his life. He actually felt the palpitations from his heart, as he gasped in oxygen, while trying not to move.
Clearly he was losing this battle, as he sucked air into his lungs, feeling his legs grow rubbery. “Where in the dickens was Peter?” Without realizing it, he had spoken aloud, and then Peter was there, stooping, calming, speaking gently, indicating that there was nothing to fear. Indeed, he reached down into the viper’s den, and withdrew the writhing object of Charlie’s distress, and held it up to the sky, allowing it to wrap itself around and around his wrist and arm, hissing and shaking its tail violently.
“What in the Sam hell are you doing? Are you crazy?” Charlie was sputtering in his agitation.
“Not crazy. I just want to move this gopher snake over to a fresh mound that I saw this morning. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Gopher...snake? What about the diamonds on his skin? And the diamond-shaped head? Those are tell-tail signs of a rattler.” Charlie stuck his face belligerently in Peter’s direction.
“Yes, you’re right. It’s got those signs, but what doesn’t your rattler have? Besides a rattle, I mean?” And that was the long and the short of it. The tail tapered off to a point, and the rest was all an act. Ironically, in attempting to frighten off man, by assuming the appearance of a rattler, many gopher snakes are killed for no reason.
“Well, I’ll be dipped in doodoo-hockey. You’re sure right about that. You had me going there for a while, but I would have figured it out eventually, if my heart didn’t give out first.”