Going out our front door, my wife encountered the rat snake on our stoop, at the hinge side of our entrance. She, being an admirer of snakes, quietly closed the door and came to share his presence with me. Every muscle under its black skin was tense from her presence, and there seemed to be a bulge in his middle that suggested a recent meal. We watch it move across our threshold and climb a corner of our house.
Next to the front door in a corner is a plant stand holding a bright red geranium. It is such a well-tended and full plant that a pair of Carolina wrens have taken residency of it. But the presence of the rat snake brought them out immediately and a Savannah sparrow helped as it held a position near the plant like a Kestrel hunting over a field. One of the wrens held a morsel in its beak and darted near the nest then out of reach. The other flew in circles above the scene, and the snake held its ground in the corner of our house. My wife and I, believers in the rules of nature, left the scene, knowing that “Nature’s beautiful way” would prevail. But as I went inside our house, I was hopeful for the wrens and that the rat snake was just passing through.
As much as my wife and I enjoy our garden, many pine trees, and the birds and other animals that share them with us, we accept death as part of this life. We realize that we will sometimes find a fledgling that has fallen from its nest high in one of our pine trees—especially after a storm. Some plants that we hope to see bloom do not do well and die or just limp along like the clematis planted two years ago. The bright and cheerful winter pansies will wilt under the June sun. But no matter of all the lessons I have learned in the garden, I wanted the wrens’ nest to remain intact.
For the remainder of the day after the snake appeared, I would wander out to the front door area. I stayed far away but best positioned myself to see if the snake was in the plant. I did not see or hear the birds, nor did I see the snake in the plant or anywhere in our yard. Because of the lack of animals, I assumed that the nest had been violated, the snake and wrens leaving it to compost and feed the geranium; another death/life cycle in a garden. Our front entrance held the silence of a grave.
Gardens can be plotted on paper or in the brain, with the location of various plants thought out for a variety of reasons. Plants can be planted, nourished, and even pampered. Most will thrive, some will not. However, the outcome of the planned garden’s flowering will offer a home to a variety of animals. Most, like the birds, will be seen and heard. Some, like the snakes, will not be seen often. But all will be present and contributors to their local ecology.
This morning when I went to the front yard to ride my stationary handcycle, I was thinking of other things as I turned the corner from our back garden. But regardless of my other thoughts, the notes of the Carolina wren sitting on the back of a garden chair near our front door cheered my spirits. The pair were here. The loud notes announced their territorial presence.
I did not venture toward our front door area, but listened to the morning concert of one small bird telling the world that this morning it was here like its ancestors and for the moment, what else mattered?