Tag Archives: garter snakes




My youngest grandchild, Patrick, turns ten years oldĀ  today!

I admired ultrasound pictures of him before he came into this world and I was there, with his Mom, the day he was born. I snuggled and cuddled him when he was just tiny. I talked to him and sang to him and waited for his smile. He had a great smile, even then.

Patrick is the only one of my grandchildren to have been bitten by a snake!

I have a lot of snakes here, on this bit of low woodland I live on. Garter snakes, mostly, but I occasionally see other varieties. None of them are poisonous. I have always picked them up, to show visiting children. They like to feel their scales (not slimy!) and see – close up – the way snakes move and learn about their surroundings by their darting tongue. It’s important, I think, for children to understand snakes, and not be afraid of them.

When Patrick was three, he visited me here on Beaver Island. His Mom went to town one day, and Patrick and I went to check on the growing things in the garden. It was a warm day, so several garter snakes were out sunning themselves on top of the compost bin. Patrick was thrilled to see them, and answered “Yes!” he’d like to touch one and later “Please!” could he hold it, too.

I had done this before.

No problem.

First the chance to touch the snake, to feel his muscles tense and wiggle, so there are no surprises. Then, see how I hold the snake, just behind his head, firmly but not too tight. With your other hand, support his twisting body.


The transfer is the only tricky part. I move my fingers back just a little, so the child can get their fingers just behind the head, then help them get a feel for the right amount of grip, then watch their eyes get big and face break out in smile at the wonderment of the strength and movement contained in that small animal…and then we gently release the snake, and watch him move away.

I’d done it dozens of times.

Nothing to worry about.

Patrick did everything perfectly.

A born snake handler!

Then, for just a second, he relaxed his grip.

In the blink of an eye, that snake turned and bit him on the hand!

Two fangs actually punctured his tender three-year-old skin!

Released, the snaked wiggled away into the tall grass.

I was surprised.

Patrick was even more surprised.

And insulted!

He let out a yell.

I grabbed him up and brought him into the house. We examined his wound, and cleaned it good with soap and water. I made several calls…to the Medical Center, the veterinarian and the nurse-line at the hospital on the mainland… to reassure myself that I had done everything I should, and that I didn’t have to worry about salmonella or anything like that.

We related the story to Patrick’s mom, when she got back.

Later, it was told again, to Patrick’s Dad (who is afraid of snakes!).

Then, we all stored it in our minds as an important legend in the history of Grandma Cindy’s house on Beaver Island, the grand-children’s visits there, and Patrick’s childhood.

We bring out this story on special occasions…like today, on his ten-year-old birthday.

Happy Birthday, Patrick!









These words all describe my grandson, Brandon.

I saw him first when he was only a few hours old.

It’s hard to believe that was seventeen years ago!

Moments stand out:

The first time Brandon and his older brother came to stay with me for a week on Beaver island, he was only 10 months old. Wiggling toes in the grass was as wondrous as wiggling toes in the sand! I got as much pleasure out of everything he saw and experienced as he did. He was such a joy to watch!

For many years, the boys came every summer.

We’d start our days at Iron Ore Bay. For me, a thermos of coffee and a book. For the boys, hours digging in the sand, making bridges and trenches and rock walls, finding stones and feathers and shells. Breakfast scraps were thrown to the gulls. When we were too hot, or too sandy, the water was right there.

We walked every day. My arsenal included sunscreen and insect repellent, and plastic bags to be fashioned into waterproof capes in case it rained.

We worked in the yard and garden. The grape arbor was transformed into a fort each year. The compost bin often harbored garter snakes. The big toad, George, could be observed most evenings on the kitchen stoop. Moths would gather on the windows at night.

Evenings, we’d fix dinner together, play cards, read or watch a movie before bed.

I know it wasn’t perfect. There were hassles and arguments and tears folded in among the good times. It lives in my memory, though, as an almost perfect time.

As I watch these boys grow up, with all the issues that go along with that, I hope they, too, have good memories to sustain them, when things get hard to deal with.

Tomorrow, my grandson will be seventeen years old.

Happy Birthday, Brandon!