The Eye of a Snake & the Tails of Mice

Within my brief time in Vermont, I learned that killing a snake took persistence; while– in some cases– letting them thrive, was the only option.

The final pose of the milk snake bidding farewell.

 I owned 65 acres of pure heaven on earth, in rural south-eastern Vermont. The curved gravel drive to the house passed huge, most majestic, white pines, weeping willow, crimson king maple trees arching around a crystal- clear heart shaped pond. Finally, around to the backside one enters a very large stately log house. The house, situated in a higher elevation, overlooked the pond, as it changed in surface and reflection from season to season, out to a surrounding arch of varietal trees, to the mountains beyond.  Sunrises projected crimson shades in anticipation of the fire ball sun. The mountain scape reflected rainbows of varying palettes; the afternoon sun issued a glow, distinct on each elevation. Discovery of plant life– my first spring– was nothing short of thrilling. From the micro flowers deep in the wakening blades of grass to an assortment of garden blooms, to wild milkweed reminiscent of my youth. Such naturalized flowers– thriving and spreading– created planes of subtle colors as if painted with a wide brush. Those early days were awe inspiring, along roadways, in swampy or dry soil; while tiny salamanders, aquatic spiders, tadpoles, toads hopping from their perches, occupied the pond .

The enfilade of adventures drew from assorted past years, as a woman with Midwestern/ Connecticut background. Vermont, however, pushed the envelope of my comfort zone.

Shortly after my arrival– in late summer– began occurrences–after sunset– of an unfamiliar terror. Blood-curdling-screams erupted, lasting a short, but tenuous time. First thought, there is a murder taking place, an uneasy and confusing awareness without an antidote. Because I had no immediate neighbors, I had no instinct to report a crime. Such was my introduction to coyotes.

The first time I found a mouse drown in my dog’s water bowel– repulsed– I cried to my then boyfriend, who volunteered to remove it for me. The second time it happened I summoned my willpower and did the ditch into the wooded area around the house. Mouse removal became part to my job description, from then on.

Mice– my co-inhabitants– were to be contended with, an unenviable conclusion. There were two times, while sitting on the john, when a curious little head peaked from under the door or, while sorting a box of clothing– stored for some time in the garage– I unearthed a new mommy mouse with at least eight hungry micettes lacked on her teats. This maternal scene was too innocent to destroy. I scooted them on their way– in the grass– all the nursing pack still intact. That is an image I won’t forget.

Soon I dreaded the locations of the mouse dropping and forced myself to explore means to diminish an indeterminate population of the creepy rodents. That meant contending with my poison phobia, as well. I placed the toxic blue cubes in unseen areas. The fire-wood room, garage… plus I tried natural safer means, like spraying peppermint water into evidence-based locations. Mice and poison– both early phobias of mine from the age of ten, we religiously joined my father at the sacred Minnesota duck hunting cabin, used for several generations for the manly pursuit of alcohol and firearms. Mice and poison were plentiful in the mostly vacant cabin. Without any known reason, I became afraid of being poisoned through touching something, as unlikely as a car air refreshened (though, the odors generated from those made my phobia seem less ridiculous now).

Even my dog, Max, was not fond of the mouse terrain.

Toughening up, however, was no match for the morning– in early spring– surveying the garden area in flip flops and a robe. Treading gingerly– with a shovel in hand, to avoid the icy water-soaked ground– I glanced toward the wooden steps that served as the formal entrance to the house. There– sunning itself– was a large, coiled snake!

When I say large, I compare its size to a garter snake for girth, much bigger. Its skin– a tan- reddish brown pixilated pattern, sent my adrenalin soaring. Usually pretty levelheaded under stress, I retrieved my iPhone from my robe’s pocket, snapped a few shots and slowly placed the phone back, before I took great precision and aim with the shovel, striking the snake as if my life depended on it. Striking it again, and again, a murderous impulse with every intent to kill.

I told myself, this snake— one inch plus in diameter and perhaps four feet long snake–under no circumstances, is going to reside under my house.

After many exhausting blows, I left the shovel impaled in its back and returned inside to look up the nature of this viper. Behind the safety of my other door, I completely fell apart. Wailing hard with thoughts of, why me, alone away from everyone and even in the familiarity of my house’s entrance, is a potentially poisonous snakes living way too close? When I got a grip, I texted a copy of the snake’s image to the forest manager for identification.

Shortly after, I received his identification of the snake, an Eastern Milk Snake, useful for eating mice and not poisonous!!!!! My body still weak from physical duress, was relieved, but I never-the-less went to inspect my kill. To my astonishment, the snake was still moving!!!

More vicious than ever, I struck with several more blows and retreated inside, again to gather my wits. Another conversation later, it was revealed that they are very hard to kill and require a severance of the head, or close. OK, problem solved. I returned to the scene and found that the snake had moved, yet again!

As photographed, above image, is the position I found it in– its head elevated and frozen in a strike position, jaw open wide. Ugh… It was still.


Enter the scene–two years later-– I had concluded that my purpose for being there, a mission to develop a retreat center– while a potentially successful concept, would not be realized by me. There were several factors leading to that conclusion–for another time.

I had lovingly– full of inspiration– produced an idyllic setting of house and surrounds. Airbnb guests adored their fortuitous choice for the accommodations and setting.

The retreat that wasn’t was now being transformed into a piece of real estate. The boutique real estate company I hired included it under: Luxury Vermont Estates.

I was moving back to Connecticut. The work of deaccession, donating, dumpstering, divvying between fiends, took longer than I had expected, but the estate was on the market by August, a glorious time.

The open house was staged and spotless with an interested party in the wings. It was the second showing that produced the buyer from hell. Let’s call him the Jackal.

It was on a breathtakingly beautiful autumn day– with the encouragement of my broker–that I accepted an offer on the house. A very low offer, but one that the agent guaranteed would be a minimally demanding by Jackal, as compensating for a low offer.

It turned out that the so-called buyer’s guarantee to be less “picky” as to any items coming up in the inspection, was far from true. I was interrupted by his incessant demands.

My moving van was delayed by unforeseen circumstances. I called Jackal, to stay on top of expectations. He was anxious to keep the closing as scheduled but offer me the garage for the storage of items to be left behind for retrieval. (He didn’t mind querying me further about items he could ask me for. He had a spreadsheet.)

Through a series of contemptuous behaviors– by the realtors, attorneys and the perpetrator, the Jackal, the time I spent in Vermont ended abruptly and traumatically.

I was called during my hectic move by my agent. I was told to sign an addendum, on my phone– for an additional 20k. My attorney got on the phone and abruptly, without any explanation, barked, “Debra, sign it and move out.”

The Jackal, it is my belief, issued an insistence or even an ultimatum –the kind that might come from a Napoleonic character, a small but determined dictator who kept all subjects quaking.

At 4:30 on that afternoon, the house filled with the same cast of characters, taking orders from Jackal, such as close the garage door, I’m paying for the heat. He could see the moving van was being loaded through the garage door openings. I glared at him, the character who told me the reason he chose my house was due to the good karma he felt.

At 5 pm, I was told to leave! It was not a question, but a command. The order was so emphatic that I asked if I could take my dog, then my purse. I was humiliated to leave the project I had lovingly injected my heart and soul into.

Max, my golden doodle, and I– on a cold December evening– drove to Connecticut where I was anticipating the closing of the house, I was buying the next day. My favorite succulent and homemade maple syrup– retrieved on the way out– were taken into the dog friendly Marriott to keep from freezing.

Still shook up from the previous day, we made our way to the attorney’s office to get organized for the next phase, our next home. During the wait, I was allowed to use a computer. I pulled up the addendum of the sales contract which I signed at the insistence of my attorney.

All of my nervous system when into over-drive, as I read, “any personal items left by the seller after 5 pm, December 12, 2019, would be forfeited. Any expenses incurred for the final removal and/or disposal of sellers items would be paid by the seller out of the escrow fund.”

On that day– a short night later– by early morning the Jackal has disposed of the highlights of my sculpture career. In the bottom of a 30-yard dumpster were several important over-life-size cast iron figures, as well as ceramic pieces, arguably, my best work. Included in the dumpster were works of several other significant artists in my collection.

There was no way to access and retrieve the contents of a 30-yard dumpster– scheduled for pick up, from two states away, with limited funds.

For the next few years, the torment of this event has frequently come into my consciousness. The first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. When asked about my career, I cower and produce a shaky voice trying to control my painful emotions. The tears always broke through my resolve. Having to replace household items, also disposed of, was also traumatic. A trip to Home Depot was grueling. The aftermath of these departing events continue to haunt me; any prospects for retrospective exhibitions are squashed.

The events of my life have become fodder for memoir writing, of some consolation.

But we are not yet through with the story. Recall that the Jackal was on record as choosing the house for its karma. The Milk Snakes staked out turf in the lower level of what is now Jackal Estate.

While I was packing, in the lower level, a ceiling tile was ajar. A flicker of movement caught my eye. Thinking it was a mouse, I explored it further with a stick.

What I saw, was perhaps, the reincarnate of Milk Snake in its Death Pose. The snake was quite large and I did not care to engage it further, above my head.

It does gives me a vindictive pleasure to know that I left a piece of karma in the ceiling. I hope that the Jackal enjoys the slithering snake– in hiding– just as the character he is; a one eyed snake with evil intent who may just grow a tail, to mimic the mice he lives among.

–Debra Sherwood

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To be defined as an Artist, an entrepreneur, an educator, writer, curator, mother, would miss the life that created the whole.

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