Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Don't talk back to the jacket

First of all, I stink at selfies, so don't judge. This one shows that my hair is still thin on top where I singed it, but that's not the point. The point is the jacket.

What is it about this jacket? It's just a cheapo faux leather thing that I picked up on clearance--nothing really special at all, but every stinking time I wear it I get compliments all over the place, including from total strangers in the grocery store. "Nice jacket," they say. On Sunday an oldish man at church said it was pretty. (Not the word I would have chosen.) The first time I wore it, a student said, "You should wear that more often." (A student!) And this morning a colleague told me it makes me look like Badass Bev, which was good timing since I was on my way to a class where I needed to hold the line against a flood of excuses, which is hard to do when I'm dressed in kindly grandmother garb.

I don't get it. No one comments when I wear fuzzy red socks to match my sweater or a startling purple scarf to liven up a ho-hum outfit, but all I have to do is throw on this chunk of synthetic polymer extruded from a machine and all of a sudden I'm a compliment magnet. Maybe it's just because this jacket is so different from my other teaching clothes, so dressing like this every day would make the compliments dry up. I need to wear it strategically, save it for those moments when Badass Bev needs to make an appearance. Tomorrow I'll be back to my usual boring wardrobe; today, though, you'd better not mess with me unless you're carrying a heap of compliments.    

 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Desert Cabal: a compelling invitation

Desert Cabal 
In his introduction to Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey described his book as "not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You're holding a tombstone in your hand." Fifty years later, Amy Irvine wrapped herself around that tombstone and started talking back; the result is her penetrating and elegant little book Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness. 

Abbey concluded his introduction to Desert Solitaire by encouraging readers not to drop his book on their feet but to "throw it at something big and glossy." In the years since his death, Abbey's myth has grown into a big, glossy monolith promoting a particular vision of wilderness, but Irvine throws the book right back at him to examine the flaws in that myth and formulate a new vision.

The difference is evident in the two books' titles: Solitaire versus Cabal. Abbey portrayed himself as a solitary explorer eager to protect and preserve wilderness--but also to possess it. In "First Morning," the chapter describing the start of his tenure as a park ranger at Arches National Monument, Abbey looks over the surrounding scene and muses, "I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally, as a man desires a beautiful woman. An insane wish? Perhaps not--at least there's nothing else, no one human, to dispute possession with me."

Irvine points out that Abbey was not alone but instead chose to erase his companions in the desert, including his wife and child, and reminds him that this urge for possession takes many forms. In Utah's mountains "the footwork of dinosaurs can still be fingered, a kind of earth braille by which to read the poetry of prehistory," but today the area is ravaged by "the thumper trucks, the earthmovers, the drill rigs" feeding our addiction to fossil fuels. "Like all good addicts," she writes, "we are choosing to die rather than to withdraw. and with us we are taking down every other living thing--the hoary bat, the pike minnow, the purple sage."

Irvine also schools Abbey on the added dangers women face in the wilderness and the continued attempts by outsiders to appropriate Native American culture. "So don't be that creepy white dude who's trying to siphon a sense of meaning and belonging off the desert's Native peoples, Mr. Abbey," she writes, "And for godssakes. Leave the women be--or you might get punched, kicked, maced, or worse. We're a little on edge these days."

While she admits that Abbey's "claiming of Utah's desert outback taught an entire nation what it means to be in collective possession of a place," Irvine asserts that "[i]t's the rough country, after all, that's in possession of us and not the other way around." Abbey insisted that "[w]e need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it," and Irvine agrees that we need wild places "that exfoliate our neuroses. That refuse to coddle our compulsions. That remind us, in these times of profound greed, what we really need." However, she also points out that Abbey's exalting the virtues of solitude in the desert drew hordes who wanted to follow in his footsteps, making solitude ever more rare. 

"Everywhere you look," she writes, "there are these hyped-up, tricked-out, uber-fit, machine-like humans that pump, grind, climb, soar, and scramble through the desert so fast they're just a muscled blur. The land's not the thing, it's the buzz." We need people to love wilderness enough to stay away from it:
Because if people came to care about the way the air shimmers when the rabbitbrush shrugs off the heat and sends it rolling across the slickrock, the way the antelope bolt like lightning unleashed from a squalid sky--maybe we'd stand a prayer of a chance to save the places we  treasure from those who would take some quick and dirty form of amusement over poetry, beauty, and wonder.
And to accomplish this, she insists, we need each other. "To survive without turning into heartless monsters, or soul-sucked automatons," she writes, "we'll need intimacy with people every bit as much as with place." In the end she extends an invitation to Abbey: "join me in asking your followers to do away with their rugged individualism" and join "a cabal. A group gathered around a panoramic vision."

Irvine's compelling vision fits into a dense but lyrical 98 pages (available from Torrey House Press--click here). She echoes Abbey's chapter titles, untangling the knots in his paradoxes in order to empower a new generation of wilderness advocates. She envisions her cabal becoming "a thunderous, galloping gathering, a passionate, peopled storm, nearly indistinguishable from the ground on which it rains, on which it sprinkles seeds. This," she writes, "is how hope takes root."

Edward Abbey remains rooted in the desert, resting in an undisclosed location where his friends buried him after his 1989 death. Abbey did not want his grave to become a shrine attracting disciples, but it was already too late: his earlier tombstone, Desert Solitaire, attracted a small army of zealots eager to follow his footsteps into the wilderness. In Desert Cabal, Amy Irvine reaches out to everyone gathered around that tombstone and invites them to pursue a powerful new vision together. She does not disdain solitude, urging readers to "go solo, into the desert. Yes, do this and love every minute." But instead of staying there alone, she says, they should come back--and join the desert cabal.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Long, dark teatime of the semester

Eyelids droop. Heads loll and wobble and sometimes settle right down on the desktop. Students sniffle and sneeze, reach for the tissues, run for the rest room and come back with harsh scratchy paper towels to wipe snot from tender red noses.


They're tired from play practice, football, long hours in the lab. They're missing class to compete in Model U.N., attend a funeral, row in a regatta in cold dark November. Who can sleep with so many papers and projects due all at once? Some pull all-nighters and then sleep through alarms; others panic and plagiarize, creating extra work and anguish for their harried professors.

Excuses arrive daily: sick dogs, dead grandparents, someone's dad is in jail and another needs rehab. Students feeling sick, self-harming, disgusted, afraid. I offer extensions, refer them to the health center, tell them it gets better, hope it's the truth.

November cloaks us in darkness, rides like the Headless Horseman through our dreams, drives us forward toward the breaking point--but it doesn't last forever. Thanksgiving is coming, and then Christmas, a bright beacon drawing us through the darkest part of the semester. If we can just hold on, it will all get better.

But still: better take tissues to class just in case.



 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Random bullets of "You'll poke your eye out!"

My polling place got moved five miles in the extreme opposite direction from my job, so off I went at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds but I found them there already, a long line snaking out the door and down the sidewalk in the cold dark rain, in a rural precinct in the middle of nowhere. But I had the extreme pleasure of casting a vote for a friend running for county office, so that made me very happy.

Then off to the eye doctor for my annual exam, which resulted in brand-new lenses at no charge because the anti-glare coating on my lenses is crazed, which is also how I felt after my eye guy dilated my eyeballs and bombarded them with bright lights and then gave me some very important information on a handout that I can't read because my eyes haven't recovered from all the bright lights. But the good news is that it's just a tiny cataract. So far.

Now I'm at my office struggling to prep tomorrow's discussion of Toni Morrison's Sula, a novella in which many horrible things happen--a child drowns, two people are burned alive (one intentionally), and a soldier in battle keeps running after his head gets blown off--but in the whole book no phrase horrifies me more than ironing diapers. I have put cloth diapers on the bottoms of my children and grandchildren and I have washed and folded cloth diapers, but if the survival of the human race depended on my willingness to iron diapers, we'd be extinct. I know what Morrison's doing here, characterizing Nel as the neurotic neat-freak mom obsessed with maintaining order at all costs, in contrast to her free-spirited (soon-to-be-ex-) friend Sula, but still: who irons diapers? I'd poke my eyes out first.

But at least I voted before getting my eyes dilated and bombarded this morning. Otherwise I would surely have cast votes for Mr. Smudge and his running-mate Blur.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Hiatus in the haze

Yesterday was that rarest of days: I was caught up on grading and class preps and did not have any reason to be on campus, so I stayed home and did some deep thinking and reading and cooking and walking. Thick fog in the morning softened the edges of everything, muting the fall colors and making my cozy little holler look like a place hiding some deep secret. Then the rain and wind blew up so that this morning the road was covered with small limbs and slippery wet leaves, and soon the trees will be bare and the woods bleak. So I'm glad I had a chance to enjoy my brief hiatus in the haze, but now I need to grade a pile of papers, which I hope will be entirely fog-free.






Two dead trees propping each other up...hope I'm not walking by when they finally fall.


Ever get the feeling you were being watched?




 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Turning up the heat on chocolate

At a colleague's house recently I bit into a brownie that first filled my mouth with rich chocolatey goodness and then kept developing new layers of flavors that made my taste buds sing. I had to have the recipe, and now I've made the brownies at home and I honestly believe these are the best brownies I've ever eaten. Anyone who doesn't like cayenne pepper or chili powder probably ought to leave the room, though, which is fine because that means more brownies for the rest of us. The chili flavor is subtle but it bursts on the tongue in a way that makes the chocolate feel that much more wonderful, and the walnuts complement the gooey texture. But don't take my word for it--try 'em yourself.


Dave Brown's Brownies with Chili and Walnuts

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons chili powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
½ tsp salt
¾ cup flour
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 324.

Melt chocolate and one stick of butter in microwave and then cool.

Grease and flour 9x13 pan.

Cream second stick of butter, sugar, and vanilla in mixer. Add chili powder, cayenne, and cinnamon. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add chocolate/butter mixture and blend thoroughly.

Stir in flour and salt and nuts. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Maybe the HVAC is playing a Halloween trick

Yesterday afternoon I sat in a classroom shivering through a meeting even though I was buttoned up in my winter coat with my hands in the pockets, and then I stepped outside the building and found people walking around in short sleeves. Yes: it was warmer outside the building than inside. Somehow, in the heart of autumn, with temperatures falling regularly into the 30s and 40s, the perverse HVAC system in my building now requires me to put on a winter coat to enter the building.

And speaking of perverse: heat rises, right? So why does all the heat in the building seem to pool in a few rooms down in the basement?

The amount of mental real estate I'm currently devoting to keeping warm is outrageous and unsustainable. All day long I obsess over how I'm going to do my work without touching the top of my ice-block desk, and all afternoon I obsess over finishing work in time to get home before dark so I can feed the wood-burner, because God forbid I should have to go out there in the dark and carry massive chunks of tree through the mud. If I slip on the mud and break my neck, I'll die of exposure before anyone even notices that I'm missing.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Last week when a physical plant worker was in my office after my space-heater blew the circuit for the millionth time, he asked why I don't report the heat problem to the Powers That Be, at which point I laughed that hollow laugh and said, "Again?" We've been fighting this battle for years, but this year seems worse than ever. Maybe I'm just getting old so the cold bothers me more. Maybe I'm a wimp who needs to get used to wearing a winter coat and gloves inside the building. Or maybe it's time for someone who knows something about heating and cooling to find a way to fix the problem.

I fear, though, that I'm going to keep fighting this fight as long as I'm working here, which makes retirement look so much sweeter. Imagine retiring to a place so warm that I don't have to worry about coats and gloves and hauling wood across cold dark damp mud! I won't have to obsess all day about how to keep warm, so I'll have plenty of time to complain about the air conditioning.

Monday, October 29, 2018

What, you think I just twiddle my thumbs between conferences?

Stuck in my office meeting with one student after another to talk about their drafts and projects and problems with writing and I need to do something to amuse myself between conferences. Limerick time!

In my one-on-one meetings with students,
I keep telling them, "It would be prudent
to eschew obfuscation."
But I hear protestations:
"Why can't I figure out just what you meant?"

"State a thesis," I tell them, "quite clearly,
and if you start every sentence (or nearly)
with 'there is,' revise."
But then they seem surprised
when "there exists" strikes me so queerly.

So if my vocab leaves them perplexed
while theirs hurts my ears, what comes next?
I could dumb down my words
while they step up their verbs
beyond "is." Problem solved. (I'm still vexed.)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Where's Paul Bunyan when you need him?

As winter approaches, I keep telling myself I can handle this in hopes that I'll start believing it. So far, results are mixed.

Can I handle the mouse problem on my own? Cold nights inspire all kinds of creatures to find a warm place to spend the winter, so at this time of year I expect to catch mice in traps two or three times a week until the first hard freeze hits, and I'm going to have to get used to emptying the traps (yuck) and then resetting them, a task my klutzy fingers fear. Can I do it? It's hard to say since I've thus far caught no mice at all, even though last night one came boldly running through the living room while I was in there reading. Time to set some traps over behind the living-room plants, where at this time last year we caught three or four mice in a couple of days' time. Can I set the traps without snapping them shut on my fingers? If you don't hear from me for a while, send the Saint Bernards (although how they would help dislodge my fingers from a mousetrap I don't know.)

And what about heat? Can I handle the wood-burner on my own? My husband assures me that he's been cutting wood in smaller chunks so I can lift them from the pile, carry them to the wood-burner, and toss 'em in, but even the smaller chunks are pretty heavy, and if I use up all the smaller chunks in this relatively mild weather, then in the dead of winter I'll be stuck with nothing but piles of wood so heavy that it's all I can do to knock 'em off the woodpile and roll 'em to the wood-burner--but then how can I lift them and throw them in on the hot coals? I have to prop a log on the edge of the opening and shove it in with my whole body, but if I shove too far, I'll singe my hair. (Don't ask me how I know that, and if the smell of burnt hair bothers you, don't visit my office today.)
 
And what about snow? I have learned to push the mower and run the weed-whacker and I'm happy to drive the tractor around if someone else starts it up for me, but my response when the tractor does anything untoward (like overheat) is to walk away and let my husband handle it. I just don't want to know how to maintain the tractor and I don't trust myself to maneuver it up and down our driveway when it's covered with snow this winter. Go ahead and recommend a snowblower, but we're talking about a very steep gravel driveway two tenths of a mile long--how would I push it up the hill, or prevent it from sliding down? This sounds like a job for a neighbor, and since all my neighbors have tractors with plow blades, I guess I'll need to work out what kind of barter I can arrange. Homemade cookies in exchange for occasional plowing? I can do that.

I resist the idea that I'm helpless to manage problems that arise, but I'm also a realist. I see winter bringing a set of challenges I'll struggle to face, and the prospect makes me want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and hibernate for a few months--if the stupid mice will quiet down enough to let me sleep.  

I'm supposed to throw that in there? In your dreams.

"Little pieces," he said. Ha!
 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Be the beach pea!

How to terrify a room full of first-year composition students: hand them some poetry--at 8:00 on a cold October Monday morning--and make them read it.

I know, I know, I'm a horrible cruel taskmaster. This is not, after all, a literary analysis class, but today my department is hosting a reading by Ohio's poet laureate, Dave Lucas, and my students have an opportunity to earn some extra credit by going to the reading and writing about it, so I thought I'd whet their appetite--and since my first-year writing class focuses on science and nature, I gave them a Lucas poem on a sciency, natural topic: "Beach Pea."

"Poems are made of words," I said, and then I made them look up words they found unfamiliar: lexicon and mettle and hardscrabble, conjuring and loam, xylem and phloem. "We learned that in, like, fifth grade," a student pointed out, so we talked about why Lucas would commingle science and magic to describe the plant's ability to survive in harsh circumstances.

"Poems are made of sound and rhythm," I said, so I read the poem out loud and asked them to notice sound repetitions and rhythmic patterns. We heard waves crashing in one stanza, felt dry grass rustling in another.

"Poems are made of imagery and metaphor," I said, so we examined the word-pictures, the way Lucas contrasts the sturdy little beach pea with the cultivated rose. "[P]oets, you can have it," he says of the rose, and in the end he urges the beach pea to "spread out, spread deep. / Bow to no one, to no rose."

And this is what I wanted to say to my scruffy, sturdy little class this morning: We may not all be roses, dependent on proper soil and fertilizer and careful cultivation, but if we can just hold on through harsh circumstances and spread our roods wide and deep, we'll thrive like the beach pea and bow to no rose.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Time to drop back and punt

I need more Fri-
days in my life,
more times when I
can punt the strife
and stress of week-
day work downfield
to Saturday!
(Or Sunday). Shield
me from today's
unfinished stuff:
papers to grade
(Enough! Enough!),
a book to read,
emails to write
(my students need
to do things right!),
committee tasks
that grow and grow.
Here's a brute fact:
if you should throw
another chore
(a ball) my way,
I'll punt it (Fore!)
to Saturday.
(Or Sunday, may-
be.) Wouldn't you?
Long live Friday!
(My week is through.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A place for Hopeful to sit and stay

I buried my dog this morning in a nice sunny spot up on the hill near the woods where she loved to chase squirrels, with a good view of the road we so often walked together. Ten years ago she followed me home on that road, a tick-ridden, milk-engorged stray looking for a place to put down roots, and it took her just three days to earn a home and a name: Hopeful. And so she has remained, until today.

For ten years, every time I stepped out the front door she was hopeful that we'd go for a walk, and she didn't really care where: up the hill to the butterfly meadow, along the creek, down the road to visit the neighbors' cows and donkeys. She loved to bark at deer in the meadow and she used to catch groundhogs by the garden and then hide their carcasses as if they were precious treasure, and every squirrel that ever ran up a tree filled her with the hope that surely she would someday figure out how to climb up after it. In winter she would roll and slide in the snow and jump into the half-frozen creek, and in sweet-corn season she would chew gleefully on every corn cob we threw her way.

She was free to roam fields and woods but I could go outside any time of the day and whistle and call out Hopeful and here she'd come, bounding up ready for a walk. She was good at come and walk but not so great at sit and stay, which cramped her style.

How many times did we walk that road in ten years? I couldn't begin to count, but she never tired of walking the three-mile loop and ending up back on our bridge, where she knew I would toss her a treat--and she would jump to catch it. We've both slowed down over the years, but when we walked the loop two days ago, she bounded ahead as she always had, with occasional pauses to make sure I was following. She wasn't limping but she seemed a bit wobbly, and every once in a while she'd stagger drunkenly to the right and then look back as if embarrassed. She also wouldn't jump up when I tossed her treats, instead insisting on taking them straight from my hand. 

I was concerned enough to leave a message with the vet yesterday in hopes of getting an appointment, but then a power outage hit the whole county and the vet never called back. I noticed that Hopeful didn't come running to greet me when I got home last night, but by the time I'd changed clothes and found her, it was too late for the vet.

I found my dog still breathing but looking sadly diminished, curled up under the shed out back in the same spot where her best dog-friend, Duke, died a few years ago. Gentlemanly old Duke used to come limping a mile up the road for a visit nearly every day; when he was ready to die, he made that trip one last time and then crawled into the cozy nest of pine needles under the shed and breathed his last.

I wasn't surprised to find Hopeful there in a nice dry place away from the cold drizzle, but I was surprised that she didn't want to come out. I held a dog biscuit close to her mouth and she took it, thumping her tail on the ground feebly a few times, but before long she was retching and vomiting it back up. I checked her food dish: her morning portion hadn't been touched. How could she have failed so drastically in just 24 hours? 

What could I do? I found the shovel and a pair of gloves and started digging. 

It was good weather for grave-digging, cold and dark and drizzly, and as the shovel bit into the heavy clay soil I would glance at the road and think about all the miles we'd walked, all the ways she'd brought a steady stream of hope into my days. She came to me when I didn't know I needed a dog and she cheered me through cancer treatment and flash floods and campus shenanigans and grief. Remember how much the 17-year cicadas delighted her? How she would jump and snap and try to catch them? Or the time she found a chunk of sofa cushion in the woods and ran up to show me her newfound treasure? She was always finding something to be happy about, and she was always eager to share that happiness.

I took a few breaks in my grave-digging to walk down the hill and check Hopeful's status, and one time I was pleased to see that she had crawled out from under the shed and was lying in the pine needles nearby. That was her final gift to me, because I don't know how I would have gotten her out from under the shed if she'd died in there.

And it wasn't until I wrapped her up and started hauling her inert carcass up the hill that I realized the flaw in my plan: she may have looked scrawny lately, but in death she was heavy and the hill is steep. Somehow, though, it seemed right and proper to carry her up that final hill after she'd encouraged me to keep climbing so many others.

The rain had stopped sometime in the night and the sun was shining as I scooped the heavy clay back in the hole and set a big rock on top to mark the spot. I wanted to whistle and call her name and see Hopeful come bounding up eager for a walk but instead I told her Sit and Stay, and this time I think she just might do it.










 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

First time for everything

This morning a student brought his banjo to class and played some mountain music to enrich the class's understanding of Cold Mountain, and I feared that my face would break from smiling. The notes lingered in the air through our discussion of Stobrod's redemption, his discovery that his music could bring healing and meat to suffering people.

Another student showed me some notes a previous reader had scribbled at the end of one of the chapters: a rectangle with half-erased scribbles, the words "vellum" and "palimpsest" and some arrows pointing to traces of lost text. That very same diagram appeared on the whiteboard today in reference to our reading, and the student finally understood what some previous student had scribbled in his book. Did he add to the scribbles? If so, he may be creating his own palimpsest.

Another kind of text showing traces of previous texts appeared in my inbox in another class, where a student submitted a paper consisting of three short paragraphs that didn't respond to the prompt followed by three pages of Google Doc templates showing how to format graphs and charts, including a Works Cited in which the citations began "Last name, first name." Oh, and the title of the paper was, and I quote, "Title: Subtitle." I've never before received a template masquerading as a paper, but at least it will be easy to grade.

I suppose there's a first time for everything, but some firsts are significantly more satisfying than others. 

 

Monday, October 08, 2018

Snakes in the bailiwick


My son was coming down the steps to the basement where I was watching Chief Inspector George Gently solve a murder when he (meaning my son, not George Gently, who would be unlikely to come down the stairs to my basement because (a) I don’t keep any dead bodies down there; (b) we’re outside his jurisdiction; and (c) he’s a fictional character)—now where was I? If I keep getting distracted I’ll never get to the issue at hand, or afoot, as the case may be.

So anyway: my son was coming down the steps when he stopped suddenly and said, “There’s a snake.”

And I am pleased to report that I did not run screaming from the room, because (a) I grew up with snakes in the house (confined to terrariums) and long ago lost that primal fear; (b) I’ve long suspected that we had snakes living in the crawl space, which opens to the furnace room, ever since we found a snakeskin above a damaged ceiling tile; and (c) a snake in the house means fewer mice I’ll have to contend with come winter.

And besides, in order to run screaming from the room, I would have had to run toward the snake—barefoot. (Meaning I was barefoot, although I suppose the snake was too.) I do confess, however, that I pulled my feet up onto the sofa. If the snake developed a sudden urge to watch George Gently grimace toward a suspect, I didn’t want him slithering over my feet. Or her, as the case may be.

Instead, I calmly started asking questions. “Where is it?”

“In the furnace room. Near the door.”

I pulled my feet up more securely.

“What does it look like?”

“About two feet long, skinny, with a stripe down its back.”

So a garter snake, probably, like the ones we see all the time out around the front porch. In fact just last week I tried to interest the dog in a garter snake that was crawling beneath her feet, but instead of looking where I was pointing, she licked my finger. This makes a certain kind of sense: after all, she’s more likely to receive a dog biscuit from my hand than from a garter snake.

“Now it’s moving,” he said. (Meaning my son, not the dog or the snake.) “It’s going back behind the furnace.”

Good place for it, if you ask me. Out of sight, out of mind, free to curl menacingly around the subconscious. Once inside the house, a snake could probably get into all kinds of interesting places, but a hungry snake is going to stick to the areas most likely to be frequented by mice and bugs and other vermin, like the creepy-crawly crawl space or the musty dusty furnace room. I don’t envision a garter snake rummaging around the silverware drawer or curling up on my computer keyboard. So as long as the snake stays where it belongs, I’m okay with it.

Then again, how will I know? It’s not exactly going to be gallivanting around the house carrying a flag reading “Don’t tread on me.” What if I should happen upon the snake while stumbling about barefoot on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Some screaming might occur. I could break a leg while trying to levitate off the snake. Or, worse, what if the snake were to startle my adorable grandkids? The trauma might put them off visiting for a long time to come.

I have lived with mice and I have lived with spiders the size of small puppies and once, years ago, we lived in a parsonage where hornets had built a nest that filled in the entire space beneath a kitchen cabinet (and when they all died of hornet spray and the nest started deteriorating, it smelled like a dead horse in the kitchen), but I don’t know how long I can go on living with a snake (or snakes!) in the furnace room. But how does one discourage snakes from invading? Do we invest in poison, traps, or a mongoose? Who ya gonna call?

Just don’t suggest Chief Inspector George Gently, because snakes are outside his bailiwick.