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A Snake Called Phatlington
A true story, beautifully written, about the friendship between the author's godson and the snake called Phatlington.
In a village where streets were named for trees, former residents that the villagers chose to honour, and some romantic names, there lived a family, father, mother and son who were a little eccentric even for people who chose to live on an island. They really believed that each living thing had a right to its life and merited respect. Their house reflected this belief; a couple of birds, a rabbit, a guinea pig, two dogs and a cat all shared the same rooms. It was truly a multicultural household. Only the parents' bed was off limits to some of the critters - a barricade had to be built to keep the rabbit out because he seemed to like the smell of the wood shaving mattress for his bathroom.
The yard reflected the right-to-live attitude of the family. Thistles grew tall, wild flowers flourished, many kinds of grasses and Forbes thrived, as did the insects and other small life forms. The thick damp grass and many insects was very popular with the local population of garter snakes. And this is where our story begins.
Although I do not like to begin a story with a tragic event, this is what I have to do, as it seems that a small garter snake had had an accident or some unknown misfortune that severely bruised its body and damaged it right eye. Its plight was discovered by the boy when he noticed his dog, Jumpr, being very very interested in rather feeble movements in the long grass. Knowing Jumpr's habit of handling things, sometime with undue caution, the boy rushed over to check out Jumpr's current interest. And there, rolled into a bundle, the way helpless snakes try to protect themselves, was this injured reptile. No questions asked, it had to be rescued.
The snake, later to be named Phatlington, was placed in an aquarium with grass and a light bulb to keep it warm. This was placed in a small room in the basement where the boy did his scientific investigations. Then he went to the Internet to read up on garter snakes, and this was the beginning of a long and very interesting investigation. First he learned that snakes like a bath and swim. So one of his mother's rectangular Pyrex baking dishes became Phatlington's swimming pool. Although there was no way of knowing, it must have been days since Phatlington had had a drink, for when he was first introduced to the swimming pool, he just laid the first four inches of his body along the surface of the water and drank. And how he did drink! You could see his throat working as he swallowed the water. (subsequently, this became his routine when it was time for his swim) After drinking he would slide into the water and just laze about until he was ready to come out, usually five or seven minutes later.
As weeks passed the snake seemed to be getting fatter. And this was strange for it did not seem to eat anything each day it was taken outside and let out of the aquarium. In fact it never ventured far from the place it now accepted as its home. Also, each day it liked the boy to handle it. It would weave in and out through his fingers, nestle in the palm of his hand, lay over his wrist to be stroked. And it seemed fatter each day. Then suddenly, he became a she! And this is how it happened.
One morning when the boy went down to the basement to tend to the snake he just stood there and looked. Could he believe his eyes? Yes he could and gave a great shout and called his parents to come quickly. They came on the run and all watched Phatlington give birth to four little baby snakes, each four inches long, as big around as a piece of string, and each the perfect image of their mother!
The boy and his parents were awestruck and very humble at having the privilege of watching new life being given to the world. Phatlington and her family were happy in the aquarium. And here it must be explained that it is next to impossible for a person who has never studied snakes before to tell a he from a she, and let it be known the snakes do not care. I never did get the names of the little snakes straight, as each day I received reports of their activities and the whole snake family now followed the same routine of time outdoors, swim, etc. as had been set-up for the mother. However tales of the adventures of one of the little guys intrigue me. He was named Explorer because his curiosity was always taking him farther a field than any of the others dared to venture. I guess it reminded me of when I was a boy and always wanted to see what was beyond the brook, or behind the next tree. I also felt a bit sad because I learned in time that if you do not venture now, you may never venture at all. But I digress.
As Phatlington's visit stretched into four interest filled months, her family dispersed. She became a little lethargic and her colour dulled and her eyes looked funny. Again the Internet provided the answer. She was ready to shed her skin, a thing all snakes do. Two or three stones were put in the aquarium for her to rub her face on. A snake rubs its face on something hard to loosen the skin around its head, then it just crawls out of its skin. During the shedding period, snakes are very vulnerable and should be left strictly alone. The boy did this and next morning he found Phatlington with brilliant new colours and perfect semi-opaque, snake skin. One could see where the eyes were, the fine scales along the back, the large transverse scales on the belly that are used for locomotion.
On another day as fall approached Phatlington seemed to become very sluggish and unwilling to move. Then she became very still indeed. Was she preparing to hibernate? According to the experts on the Internet, it is next to impossible, even with best instruments to tell when a snake is hibernating or dead. There was nothing to do but wait. In a day or so it became apparent that Phatlington's spirit had gone to wherever the spirits of snakes go when they are done with this place. So the boy returned her body to the earth from where she came so her molecules could again enter into the great cycle of life as the building blocks for a seed, or blade of grass, or one of those tall regal thistles. But I like to think she will turn into a flower, blue flax flower that brings a bit of sky into the backyards of those who have the imagination to care.