Thursday, May 1, 2008

Snakes Alive!

It was an ordinary day at the Stone House, a quaint little building behind Warrenton Overlook Health and Rehabilitation Center, up on Hospital Hill. The house turned office building has a bucolic view of the farmland along Route 211 and offers a pleasant working environment for the hospital’s non-life-saving branch.

There are about 13 of us working at the Stone House – the community outreach department, physician referral staff and the Fauquier Health System Foundation, in addition to marketing.

We are all women, all very friendly, caring and hard-working.

Except Tuesday.

On Tuesday, everybody stood around in the hallway for an hour in a state of nervous excitement.

It had been an ordinary day, until Kay found a snake on the copy machine.

A small snake, the brown and black reptile was about as big around as a pinkie finger, longer than a foot but less than two. But the sensation it caused was anything but small.

When Kay McClure of the Foundation sounded the alarm, every office emptied and the hallway filled with the curious and the nervous. Toni Evans of marketing jumped up on a chair and marketing director Amy Petty called her husband Glenn and her father, Bob Thomas to come rid us of the scourge – right now!

Someone called maintenance. Gayla Vandenbosche in marketing, always practical, sought to contain the reptile to the copy machine's corner. I grabbed my camera and helped Gayla stand guard.

The hallway chatter included speculation about the approximate size of the snake (a foot to a foot and a half); its species (copperhead, black snake, rat snake ... anaconda); other snake stories (There are apparently snake sightings at the Stone House about four times a year, usually on the porch.). There was also considerable discussion about any little snake siblings that might be hanging about. Would snakes materialize in the supply closet among the paper clips, get tangled up with computer power cords, or drop down on our heads from the ceiling vents?

By this time, it was pretty much decided among the residents of the Stone House that the snake was a highly poisonous copperhead.
We thought about opening the door, pushing the copier out and ordering a new one. None of us were going to touch that copier again anyway.

Before this course of action could be acted upon, Glenn showed up and set about trying to get a visual on the snake. Shortly thereafter, Amy’s dad and Delmer Clarambeau from maintenance arrived and with Glenn, took things in hand.

The hallway was still crowded with tense women when the three males located the snake inside the radiator behind the copier. He was rousted and stepped on, although he continued to wriggle feebly.

Del measured the intruder at 16 inches and said that he thought that the snake was a year-old black snake. Young black snakes have distinct patterns, he said. They don't turn black until later in life.

By the time the party broke up and everyone returned to their offices, nobody was buying the harmless black snake theory. We were hanging on to our copperhead with both hands (figuratively, of course).

I took a few closeups of the snake before Del put him back into the woods that line the driveway. Many of the worried women wanted the snake sent to the crime lab for positive identification. Instead, I sent one of the closeups to Doug Harpole of the Extension Office. Doug is a wildlife expert with a special affinity for snakes.

While talking to Doug about the need for his help, he told me his favorite snake story: He was in the Fauquier County Library one day when he saw a four-foot black snake traveling across the floor near the front desk. Doug walked over to the snake, calmly picked it up, and asked the astonished library clerk, “Can I check this out now?”

Upon seeing my very excellent photograph, Doug immediately replied, “Your maintenance man was correct. A happy, harmless, helpless, lost juvenile black rat snake.” I don't think Doug was happy about the fact that the snake met its demise in the Stone House.

It's understandable. Doug is a snake sympathizer.

The women at the Stone House are not. (Except Gayla. She had been rooting for the snake.)

It was an entertaining bit of drama for a routine Tuesday, and the episode will continue to be discussed for weeks, I am sure.

I do regret that it was not I who came up with a name for the snake.

He will forever be known in the Stone House as the Copier Head Snake.

No comments: