Snake in the Classroom

Bull Snake.jpg

"Snake! Snake!" Sebastian shouted. We had been playing hide and seek. Silke and I heard the authenticity of the call and quickly came running.

We had talked several times this year about what to do if a child sees a snake - there are rattlesnakes nearby, but not commonly - so it was reassuring to see Sebastian and the other children respond safely and timely. Sebastian, a go-getter if ever there was one, kept his distance till we arrived.

The snake was partially coiled under a large rock, but all of us could easily see it's black and brown stripes (unfortunately, not so in the photo - but if you look closely by the arrow you will make out a few). "Wow, cool!" the kids variously shouted. "It's big."

"I think it's a bull snake," I said, but it was hard to be certain because it was coiled between thick slabs of rock. We stayed well back till we were certain. Eventually, I located the head and tail and confirmed for certain that it was a bull snake. We ventured a little closer.

If you've never encountered a bull snake before, it's impressive. Four to five feet long, with beautiful black and yellow-brown stripes, it's about as thick as a banana. It is no garter snake. It's not poisonous, but if frightened it can strike. So, I made sure we gave it plenty of room. I have encountered these snakes dozens of times (photo on the right is another time and place), and they are basically harmless. But once I was foolish enough to get close when it had no escape route. Rearing its head a full foot off the ground, it released the most threatening sound I've ever heard in my life - not the "hisss..." I was taught to believe, but a deep-throated "hehhhh..." that made me think of Satan. I turned tail and ran.

That was an important lesson, so I knew not to provoke this one. The children and I watched for a few minutes, keeping our distance, till finally it got spooked enough and climbed deep into a hole under the rock. You can hardly believe how mesmerizing it is to watch one of these striped creatures move through stones and grass. The children had no trouble leaving that space alone for the rest of the day. Really a magnificent lesson.