The distant call from Large was unusually tremulous.
“Muuuuuuum. There’s a snake.”
I admit it. I rolled my eyes.
I looked at Sabbatical Man and we both thought the same thing. It’s a stick. It’s a trick. It’s a toy. It’s a joke. Whatever it is, it is not a snake.
I walked around the corner and there was Large, looking down at a small brown and ivory snakish creature snaking its way toward the salle de fête (party room) in a suspiciously snake-like fashion.
“Stand back,” I said quietly.
“Holy mother of God!” I thought.
“Stay calm!” I ordered.
“What the *&^% am I going to do now?” I thought.
“Stay there, don’t move, keep out of its way, don’t lose sight of it!” I commanded – which was potentially contradictory but there were no protocols in place for this particular risk scenario. In New Zealand the biggest threat posed by wildlife is an itchy-bite.
I went to find Sabbatical Man.
“It’s a snake,” I said.
Like all males of the species, Medium and Small went running toward the danger.
I sprinted after them.
Large was frozen to the spot, Small sheltering behind him, Medium bending down to see what it felt like.
“Get back!” I said sharply, then took a closer look at the creature putting my family in mortal danger.
It wasn’t darting or rattling or spitting venom. It was edging slowly toward a dark corner like an English gentleman, discreetly but desperately trying to distance itself from a terrible fuss being made by noisy foreigners.
Sabbatical Man was asking for a broom.
We had arrived in this lovely old house in the Provencal countryside precisely five hours earlier. The broom closet wasn’t something I had sought out just yet.
Medium was offering to get a stick, Large and Small were equal parts scared and thrilled and my biggest concern was that this was the runt of a litter of 16 which would emerge at night to visit my children in their beds. Someone found a plastic shovel and within a minute Sabbatical Man had the snake into a giant plastic box and outside.
“We’ll leave it there overnight and find out what to do with it tomorrow,” he said.
“Snakes can climb,” I said. “It will get out of there.” And back in the house and into our children’s beds.
“A crow will kill it,” Medium offered. “I feel sad for the snake.”
Large and Small agreed.
“It’s getting dark so the birds can’t see it,” I told them. “And anyway, it will escape.”
In the morning it was gone. I was pleased.
“An eagle probably got it,” Medium said sadly.
“Un serpent?” said the delightful house-manager, Madame E, later. “C’est bizarre!” She had worked at this house for years and never seen one – but reassured us that the lizard-eating asp vipers which live in our hood pose no threat to humans, and I believed her.
As she said, we were in the countryside now. Anything can happen.
Indeed before the week was out, I had been exiled from my bedroom by the stench of rotting rat under the floor boards (rat bait all over the house gave a clue as to the scale of the infestation).
Fortunately we were also getting to know a better class of creature – the whippet-thin red border collie who lives on the farm next door, the squirrels who dart between the nut trees, the lizards who sun themselves in the shrubs around the terrace.
And in our first week, Mme E discovered a salamander in the lounge.
“These are good luck!” she told us (I think. My translations are as reliable as pirated movie subtitles), gently trapping the salamander in her hand and giving us a peek before releasing it into a shrub outside.
“If you find one in your house it means it is a healthy place,” she explained. “These are very rare in France and they are protected. They like pickled onions and go-cart racing.” (Or she may have said something else)
A good omen, I thought. Yes.