brown snake head

A Narrow Fellow

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

By Emily Dickenson

A narrow fellow in the grass

Occasionally rides;

You may have met him—did you not

His notice sudden is,

The grass divides as with a comb,

A spotted shaft is seen,

And then it closes at your feet,

And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,

A floor too cool for corn,

But when a boy and barefoot,

I more than once at noon

Have passed, I thought, a whip lash,

Unbraiding in the sun,

When stooping to secure it,

It wrinkled and was gone.

Several of nature’s people

I know, and they know me;

I feel for them a transport

Of cordiality.

But never met this fellow,

Attended or alone,

Without a tighter breathing,

And zero at the bone.

I like this poetic experience about coming upon a snake unexpectedly. This is the first snake I’ve seen this year and I’ve never seen a Rubber Boa (Charina Bottae) in grass. I’ve always seen it on a gravel road casually warming itself. This one is more likely a lady than a fellow because she’s about 24 inches long, and males rarely grow to that length. The first one I saw several years ago looked like an overgrown worm, the head and tail look so similar and it is very shiny. That’s a handy trick for fooling a predator. When in danger, this snake tucks its head into its coils and beats at its offender with its tail, trying to fool the bully into thinking it has a chance to snap its head. Hence, its tail is often scarred.

The Rubber Boa preys on mice and voles. It kills by constricting its victims, sometimes squeezing several baby mice at a time while fending off the mother with its tail. We have moles and voles and ground squirrels on our acres so it’s convenient to have this snake around in addition to Bull snakes and Racers. They all go down into the rodent holes for meals. Rubber Boas give live birth, are known to dig, and may live 50-70 years. It’s main predator is in fact humans who capture and sell them for pets, which is illegal in the US.

This animal never strikes and bites with its small head so for people like me who don’t care to handle snakes, the Rubber Boa is a gentle one to begin with. Indeed it seems to enjoy clinging to a human arm and riding around for a while. One of my students told me his dad brought home a Rubber Boa behind his back, asked his son to close his eyes, then put the small snake in the kid’s hands. It wrapped around the boy’s arm and stayed there for hours while he rode his bike, shared it with his friends, and then went to the library with it still attached to himself. That’s when he found out how horrified our small town librarian is of snakes of any kind. His mom said the snake finally got lost in the house and they never found it. She still wonders about it when she scoots things around in closets.

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9 thoughts on “A Narrow Fellow”

    1. Thanks, Tom. I have this poem posted below a beautiful poster of native grasses in my bathroom. It suits that image more than this boa on gravel, but Emily is so succinct with her nature poems I used it.

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    1. You are lucky to have only 2 snakes, too bad one has venom. We have rattle snakes in our county but not close to where I live. We were told if we have Bull snakes, rattlers don’t share their territory. I’m always careful anyway. That is a sweet family story about the boy and his snake.

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    1. Thanks, Mouse. I was really tempted to bring this one home for our neighbor who has mice but I was about 7 min. from home on a windy gravel road and wasn’t certain where it would go if it got off my arm, and it might have distracted me while driving. I could have put it in the covered truck bed, could have used a ski pole to see if it would coil around it. All in all, I prefer to leave nature where I find it and I’m foolishily squeamish about handling snakes.

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