We had many other kinds of snakes on the ranch. The
most spectacular were the black and white king snakes.
Their colors, those alternating bands of creamy white and
jet black, were beautiful. Although harmless to humans,
they were sure death to mice, pack rats, and birds.
Our garden, on the ranch, was in a field a half mile or
so above the house. One day I was walking up to it, and I
heard a bird, western chat, very noisily screaming and chat-
tering. I made my way through some willows and other
shrubs to where the bird was sounding off, and found a
king snake wrapped around a limb of a small tree, with his
head in a birds nest, the chat's nest.
The chat was diving on the snake, beating at it with
its wings and pecking with its beak, but the snake ignored
it. The king snake saw me or felt my presence. It immediately
put its body in reverse, and before I could act, flowed
down the limb to the ground, and lost itself in the under-
I looked into the nest, which had contained four birds,
and found one lonely baby chat. The snake had devoured
the rest, and would have eaten the last one if I hadn't
happened along. I debated what to do. I knew the snake
would come back to the nest. I thought of trying to move
it to a taller tree, but I didn't know whether the parents
would abandon it if I handled it in the moving process. Then,
also, I didn't know how to secure the nest. I couldn't just
set it in the crotch of a tree, because, unsecured, a gust of
wind would have sent it to the ground.
Finally, I decided to leave it alone, and let nature run
its course. I left the chattering parent and the young bird
with the hope that the king snake would forget the
location of the nest and the little chat that cowered there.
However, that hope was in vain, because when I returned
the next day, the nest was empty.
Nature is cruel, not just because several young chats
were killed, but because in this life there are the predators
and the prey the predators living at the expense of the
prey, and those chats had so much potential. The chat is
almost as versatile as the mocking bird. His notes and it's
songs are many and varied, ranging from trills to outright
chattering or scolding.
I felt that through their death, the earth was diminished.
Moreover, the parents moved away from the gar-
den, and I missed them very much, but the bird's death
benefited the snake. It was sustained by the meal the
young chats furnished, and I am sure, by curbing the
proliferation of mice, rats, and rattlesnakes (king
snakes kill and eat rattlesnakes). They do more good
than harm. Yet, in the battle for survival, I would prefer
that the chats and other birds would be successful. After
all, a king snake can't sing, and there are very few of
we humans who don't get a creepy crawly feeling when
in the presence of a snake.
I worked for a man named Van Zyverden in Crescent,
in the southeast corner of Salt Lake Valley, during the early
1950s. He was from Holland, and was trying to start a
tulip farm. One day, I was following him down a ditch. I
noticed a middle sized blow snake that he had disturbed
when he stepped over it, but he hadn't seen it. I picked it
up, caught up with him, and said, "Her Van, I've got some-
thing for you."
He turned, saw the wriggling snake looking him in the
eye, with its forked tongue flashing in and out, and he
screamed, "Good Lord," turned, and ran as fast as his long
legs would carry him. I hadn't expected such a violent
reaction, and I almost got fired.