One very hot day in January during my lunch reading break the dogs became restless, moiling and whining and jumping up to look through my bedroom window onto the stoep but clearly not really knowing what they were upset about, or where they should direct their attention. I went to investigate and on passing a different bedroom which had been shuttered against the heat and was quite dark, saw one of the cats puffed up and arched, fully alert and peering into a corner, where I could just make out a dark mass which seemed to seethe as I watched, and did I see a head rising, did I imagine a flash of a hood? To reduce what might become dangerous chaos I put the dogs behind closed doors, removed the cat and cautiously opened shutters. Yes a snake, brown and beautiful, and I watched as it slithered its considerable length beneath an upholstered armchair. I did not think it wise to deal with a serpent of that size on my own, especially if a venomous cobra, so, keeping an eye on the chair, I started phoning to find help. Several dead ends later I contacted the local police and asked if they could help me, but only if they would not kill the snake.
Oh no, said the pleasant lady on the other end, we no longer kill, but catch and release snakes.
Five minutes later a van arrived, bearing two chaps equipped with nooses on sticks and a bag, and tjoef tjaf, within very few minutes had upended the armchair, flushed snakey out, cornered and noosed her - it was a girl cobra, about 1.5 metres long -and popped her into the bag, twisting its neck firmly to prevent escape. No nonsense, efficient, wonderful to watch. Hennie arrived, disappointed to have missed the excitement but drove in convoy to witness the release, another police van bearing two more men having joined them. It was a sight, seeing them go, led by a van with a brawny arm gripping the neck of the bag protruding from the passenger window - not on your Nelly were they going to have THAT thing in the cab with them! Blue flashing lights and sirens might have added drama, but alas, none of that. Beyond the town, in Kogmans Kloof a suitable site was found, the snake removed from the bag and pointed in the direction of the the mountain, away from the road. Initial disorientation and fear made her first move towards the men, causing just a tad of an upset, but then she was off and up the slope into the bushes, to have, one hopes, a long and useful life doing God's work, unbelievable though this may seem to some.
The Montagu Police Service is to be commended on their enlightened approach and the quick, humane and efficient way they dealt with this matter. Adjudant officer Butler leads this team and is the chief snake catcher.
Later, driving home Hennie noticed some boys throwing stones at something by the river, stopped to investigate and so could save the life of a small puff adder. Later that afternoon pandemonium broke out in his garden, all the birds in the Oudam screaming and mobbing something in an apricot tree, which turned out to be a lovely boomslang. It was an unusually good day for seeing snakes.
My father used to insist that for every snake one saw, there were at least ten that one did not, that they were shy and secretive animals going about their business quietly and only became dangerous if cornered or interfered with. Their fear of us is much greater than our fear of them. My mother, on the other hand, hated snakes and killed them if she could, some of us trying to hinder her and head the snake safely off. All of their children followed the example of my father. He would go on long walks every Sunday afternoon, a gaggle of girls following him clad only in shorts and tackies, rambling through the veld, often up the mountains. He encouraged us to not move quietly, so that we would warn snakes of our approach, and to look before putting hands and feet down when climbing rocks. In all those years of walking and climbing I never once saw a snake, so his advice was sound, nor did I see a leopard, something I regret. There were some still in the mountains, even during the bad old days of wanton state-sponsored campaigns of extermination. I was always sorry not to have seen a leopard but know that even if I did not see them, they would have seen me, as the famous sign says at the gates of Tiger Haven in Nepal, but about different cats altogether. I am so glad that these animals are better tolerated and appreciated now, and that the conservation of leopards is being considered by most to be a desirable thing to do.
So here is my first contribution for this year, all about snakes and with nothing at all about work. We are putting up some images of new bowls, tiles and Hennie's wonderful, beautifully made inside shutters with which he has been wrestling for some months but seems to be thoroughly on top of now. And I keep my head down, working through a list of bowl orders so that I can get back to painting which has been rather sidelined of late. Not good. Life is short, I am old and I would dearly love to become a really good painter before I die!