When I was growing up along the south end of the Santa Monica Bay it was not uncommon to see snakes as part of the landscape. Gopher Snakes and Garter Snakes where in great abundance and even the beautiful King Snake was not an infrequent sighting in backyards, vacant lots, parks, and fields. I grew up thinking snakes were such an important part of our ecosystem, especially in limiting the growth of rodent populations. I enjoyed observing the snakes I saw as a boy but never considered keeping one as a pet, although many years later my oldest son did sneak one into his room that he intended to keep a secret from us. However, his younger sister did give him up and we let him keep the snake but there was no possibility of me ever feeding it one of those cute little mice.
I went to Ace hardware yesterday afternoon (Saturday) to pick up a filter and was blessed with a rare treat when I arrived home. A Red Racer raced past me as I stood beside the car, continued across the driveway, walkway, and rock-filled drainage ditch to take cover in the shade beneath the squash plants that line the front of our house. I was quite excited and shouted to my wife: “We have a snake!” and enticed her out to see our visitor as it eyed us with his head raised from within the sanctuary of squash.
It had been a long time since I’d seen a snake other than some rattlesnakes here and there, although many years ago snake sightings along Yucaipa Boulevard were very common as the Gopher Snakes, Garter Snakes, King Snakes, and others fled the bulldozers that were destroying the hundreds of acres of orchards that were to become the Chapman Heights development with its 1,700 homes, schools, parks, and golf course. Sadly, many of those fleeing snakes perished beneath the wheels of the cars and trucks that whizzed carelessly along the boulevard. Many more were killed by residents who did not understand and feared those that were themselves terrified by the bulldozers.
I suspect snakes are eking out a living in the Crafton Hills and other undeveloped areas nearby but I fear for them once again as a new development is in the works less than one-half of a mile from my house. Fortunately, it abuts extensive open land and a wildlife corridor, which I hope will keep the casualties low. Anyway, I wish them well and am thankful for our visitor.