The chooks welcomed us on Thursday by clustering around the front garden, trying to join me in forbidden, fenced-off areas and digging around my feet as I cut vegetables for dinner. The asparagus crowns are sending stalks up in random abandon; the Chinese cabbages have remained small but have hearted; the ever-reliable kale has shaken off the aphids and produced whole new bouquets of grey curly leaves. I went inside for a moment with my vegetables and Martin called me out again, quickly. Two of the chooks were chasing one and a half metres of fast-moving, glossy, vibrant red-bellied black snake across the grass. The complete foolhardiness of their quest engrossed us – their little legs, their waggling bums in earnest pursuit. Did they think they had just seen the biggest, tastiest worm ever, or were they were actually chasing it away? Hard to say. We tried to call them back, out of danger, as the snake slowed down and they came closer to striking distance, but they wouldn’t respond. Martin threw a small rock which landed precisely between the chooks and the snake, causing the chooks to squawk and jump and the snake to double back and rear up. The chooks paused, but stood their ground, clucking indecisively while Martin changed tactics, grabbed some bread and called them to him. This time they came up the hill, leaving the snake to its own unfathomable devices, sniffing around the grass, twisting around an unknowable winding of paths, until it slid under the fence and out into the paddock.
The next day, in the garden, the neighbour’s half-grown piglets appeared around the corner of the house in a sudden galloping, snorting confusion. They snuffled around the path then careered down into the garden beds, oblivious to newly-planted trees, wire cages, carefully nurtured seedlings. They ran in ever more chaotic circles, stopping only to sniff, to try to root up the more enticing smells. They came towards us, cheerfully expecting food of some description, racketting off again when they saw our empty hands. Then the neighbours turned up with a bucket of pig pellets – shaken rapidly it drew them away, and back to their pen.
The swirling, ungovernable energy of the pigs remained. I was left with a feeling of impermanence, of the fragility of our little garden. Our delicately tended beds, our carefully arranged stakes, our little paths, our chicken wire and netting were suddenly inadequate, effete – barely even temporary obstacles in the path of determined disruption.
How vivid, Kathy! I was at Elanora Heights on the weekend and our host said he’d seen the first redbellied black snake of the Spring – he said he welcomes them because they’re shy by nature, won’t make trouble unless they’re attacked or surprised, and when they’re about there are less likely to be any brown snakes, which are nastier pieces of work. Your visitor was remarkably tolerant of the chooks by the sound of it.
Yes, I was surprised how tolerant the snake was, particularly since it seemed a bit agitated as they often do in spring. I’ve also heard that about brown snakes, and I’ve certainly never seen them together! Learning about the shyness of snakes is one of those ‘learning elementary nature facts’ that the farm has shown me.