I have a friend who never believes me when I tell him I’ve just seen a copperhead snake.
“Yeah. OK,” he’ll laugh, even though he’s as unrugged as I am. “You mean, a ‘garden’ snake.”
Once, late at night, I saw two copperheads relaxing outside my apartment. The reason I knew they were copperheads was because they were copperheads.
“Yeah, OK,” my friend chuckled when I called him.
“Look, these are not garden snakes,” I said, willing myself not to faint from the fear.
“They’re probably rat snakes.”
“You know that I have the same access to Google as you do, right?”
“Two copperheads’? Just sitting outside your apartment? Put me on FaceTime. I can’t see anything. Get closer. I still can’t see anything. Closer. Those things? Ummm. Get closer. I can’t tell. Text me a photo.”
I zoomed in like I had never zoomed in before.
“Oh come on! Those are just GET IN THE HOUSE NOW, LIZ! WHAT ARE YOU DOING GETTING THAT CLOSE TO COPPERHEADS? DO YOU KNOW WHAT COULD’VE HAPPENED? THOSE ARE COPPERHEADS! You need to boil some water immediately and throw it on them ...”
“Boil some water.”
That was his advice.
Clearly, I was wrong about our equal access to Google.
Here’s the thing. I get that living in wild and wonderful Beaufort County can put us in some real “kill or be killed” situations, and if my time for that ever comes, I will be ready to act swiftly and without mercy.
But when the options in front of me are “scald two pit vipers” or “quickly get inside, shut the door, go to bed and try to forget what I just saw,” I know which I’m choosing.
Unless there’s a tree frog in the apartment.
If there’s a tree frog in the apartment, then I’m sleeping in the car for as long as it takes my dog and cat to gear up, roll through in an MRAP, locate the terrorist and send me a photo of a bedraggled amphibian with its tongue hanging out and X’s where its eyes should be.
You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I’d rather be jolted awake during a steering-wheel snooze by a text saying “CONFIRMED KILL. The homeland is safe again, ma’am. (Dog emoji. Cat emoji. Power fist emoji.)” than have any lingering memory of accidentally sleep-slapping a tree frog to death because it got curious and crawled up my leg in the middle of the night.
I am not ashamed of this. I probably should be. But I was raised in a city. I’m really not good with nature, and there is not one field guide out there that can help me navigate the Lowcountry in a way that feels right.
So I made one up.
Feel free to use it.
Just a warning, though: There’s some up-front capital expense involved, namely woof-to-text software licensing fees and tiny cigarettes (don’t ask).
How to handle an encounter with:
— Mosquitoes: Tell them they are the only creature on earth that, if eradicated completely, would have no ecological impact. Lean down and whisper, “Not one animal relies on you in the food chain. Not one flower is ever going to say, ‘Hey! Where did the mosquitoes go? I can’t live without them!’” I promise you, the insect will become pensive, then despondent. It won’t have the will to bite.
— Armadillo: Scream. It will respond by screaming. Pause. Scream again. Pause. It screams. Pause. You scream. Pause. It screams. Pause. You scream. Pause. You both scream together. This is when the two of you will inevitably break down laughing. The creature will want to shake your hand before you part ways. Do NOT say, “No way! You have leprosy.” That’s just rude. Instead curtsy and tell the armadillo, “We do this now.” He won’t even know that’s not true.
— Pregnant wolf spider: Listen very carefully. There are horror movie plot lines that are based entirely on what could happen during this encounter. You will want to immediately squish this spider. I get that. BUT DON’T YOU DARE SQUISH THAT SPIDER.
When this spider dies, it explodes into 100 other spiders. Unless you have 100 magical brooms that can whack 100 spiders simultaneously, you’re going to be in some deep trouble here.
When the pregnant wolf spider walks in your garage, just reach out, clasp one of its eight legs and be like, “Heyyyyy. You look GREAT! Sooooo ... is it 48 girls and 52 boys or ....? Did you have a gender party? Cool, cool. Oh! Are you going to start a blog? Where can I follow your amazing journey online?” as you WALK IT BACK OUTSIDE. Shut the door. Get in bed. Never think about this moment again.
— Skink: OK. So this is where your investment in that meow-to-text software is going to start to pay off. Cats love skinks the same way Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins loved no one in his entire life because he was a psycho (Google it. Wait! No! You don’t want those details in your head. I’ll just tell you in a general way. He was South Carolina’s most prolific and depraved serial killer ever. And he wrote a very detailed book about what he did!).
Back to skinks! If your cat has never dabbled in light sadism before, well, first he’s lying to you and second, buckle up. It’s about to get dark.
And you need an alibi!
When a skink scuttles past you and into your house, quietly but quickly put your stuff down, leash up the dog, lead the dog out of the house and then look back at the cat. For one long and profound moment, you will regard each other with deep understanding and acceptance. Then you will both nod once in salute.
Walk the dog around the neighborhood — OMG! watch out for garden snakes! — until the text you’ve been waiting for comes in (no photo this time).
Sniff back those tears and text him back.
“A grateful nation thanks you for your service (American flag emoji. Woman emoji. Dog emoji).“