by Leo Doucet
A field of new mowed hay is hard to walk on when you are barefeet. Each
stub of what was once soft grass is now a sharp strand of hard fibre
that is painful to walk on. There is a partial remedy in that if each
step is a sliding one the stubble is bent forward making it softer on
the sole of the feet.
As was usual on a warm summer day when I visited Balmoral during school vacation, we were going fishing in Monique's brook about 1 Km. behind my Uncle's Francis Drapeauís farm. There was a wagon road with a wood cedar fence on either side that led to the brook but on this day we were walking on the field side of the fence. My cousins Raymond, Stanley, Allen and I were all bare feet and shuffling along talking and laughing, when I felt something squirm under my foot.
I jumped straight up yelling and saw what I had walked on making for a rockpile about 10 meters away, a red snake. I had seen many of the green and brown sub-species of common garter snakes but had never even heard of a red snake, particularly in N.B. I was carrying what we called a tomahawk but which was in reality a shingling axe which has a hammer head on one side and an axe blade on the other. In those days anytime we saw a snake we tried to kill it, this case was no different and I threw the tomahawk at it. It missed and the snake disappeared into the rock pile. We moved a fair amount of rock in our search for it but it had disappeared.
I couldn't get over the fact that the snake was red. I had been walking a little distance from my cousins and had had a better look. We continued talking about it all the way to the brook with my cousins telling me that I had just thought I had seen a red snake. When we got back I told my uncle about it and he too made fun of me saying that town folk did not see natural things like country people did, or words to that effect.
Over the years I told others about this episode every time snakes came up in a conversation, but no one had ever heard of a red snake in N.B. The one I remembered was the colour of a cooked lobster.
Time passed by and now the scene shifts to the Carlisle Road on the outskirts of Fredericton, about 200 Km. south of Balmoral where I had my home on 3 hectares of land. One morning I was mowing the large area of lawn behind the house when I saw my second red snake. I also learned something else. If one is mowing a large area of grass and one starts in the middle and makes passes on both sides alternately, all one sees is cut grass. But if one starts on the outside edge of the field and works progressively inwards until the uncut patch is reduced to about 4 meters square all sorts of living things can be seen because they have been herded into a small area while trying to evade the noisy mower under the tractor.
This was the case here. I caught sight of the red snake darting out of the uncut area, but before I could shut the mower off I had passed over it cutting the snake up into several pieces. I picked up the largest piece (which was still wriggling) and took it down to the house where I photographed it and showed it to my wife, who by the way was not overly impressed. Now I had confirmation and felt vindicated.
On the next mowing about two weeks later I found the complete and perfectly formed shedded skin of another red snake. This one was understandably of a paler colour. I brought it home and later gave it to a highschool student who brought it to the Oromocto High School. Still, most people I mentioned this to are skeptical. About a year later the Fredericton Daily Gleaner published an article by a herpetologist which stated that there were three sub-species of garter snakes in N.B. The most numerous, according to the article was the green sub-species. The next was the brown, although I believe I have seen more of the brown sub-species than the green. It is likely that the brown sub-species inhabits the woods where its brown colour would blend in and offer a better camouflage. The article also mentions the red variety. The author saying that this sub-species is principally nocturnal and less numerous. As a consequence it is rarely observed. See, I told you there were red snakes in New Brunswick.