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We have a fenced-in yard that backs up against a sliver of forest and a creek that serve as a dividing line between the two main parts of our neighborhood subdivision. It’s nice to sit on our deck and stare out into the woods, as opposed to looking into somebody else’s backyard. However, I do sometimes worry about the wildlife – especially the snakes. I have never come across a copperhead or water moccasin while working in the yard or tramping through the forest (knock on wood!), but I know they’re out there. Last summer, someone a few blocks from us reported on the neighborhood message board that they had found a small rattlesnake in their yard. A rattlesnake! I didn’t even know they had those in Kansas City!

This time of year, it’s pretty common for me to find garter snakes or black snakes in our backyard. I saw one yesterday slithering through the grass while I was mowing the lawn. I still get that initial, primal chill up my spine whenever I see a snake, then I relax just a tiny bit when I realize it’s a little garter snake that can do me no ill. I steeled myself and calmly positioned the lawnmower in front of the snake, preparing to run it over. Then I paused. The snake was small and harmless. Plus, it was probably helping to keep field mice away from the house, or something like that. It was no direct threat to my family, and was possibly even an ally, just doing its part in the great Circle of Life.

I felt a the slightest twitch of guilt as I pushed the lawnmower forward, expecting to hack the snake into several scaly pieces that I would have to retrieve later with a shovel. But the snake escaped the blade and slithered into a nearby garden bed and, beyond that, the forest. I didn’t feel too bad about letting it go. Perhaps it would tell its friends and cousins about the near-death experience with the spinning blade, and warn them to avoid our property at all costs.

Should I be nervous about non-poisonous snakes in my backyard? Or should I just keep the lawn cut short and hope for no more surprise intruders?