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Off the Hook?

The perfect tool, unused but ready, awaits the arrival of snakes

Illustration by Taylor Callery

Many a native Texan, beholding an expanse of ranchland, will sooner or later think: snakes. A few years ago, my husband and I bought a house in southwest Austin. Our backyard abuts a cattle ranch, and the two properties are demarcated by a wrought iron fence. The fence is by no means a shield. Its spires—a hand’s width apart—offer space enough for critters to wriggle or slither through.

Before moving into the house, we’d heard about sightings in the area: rat snakes, ribbon snakes and garter snakes. Also rattlers, coral snakes and copperheads. I wasn’t entirely sanguine about these reports. But I wasn’t terrified either. When I was growing up in Bryan, my family often visited friends on a nearby ranch, where I’d learned to identify and avoid venomous snakes.

Soon after settling into our new house, a tall, narrow box arrived on our doorstep, a birthday present from my husband. As I unwrapped the gift, I saw a rubber grip and metal shaft and thought, ungratefully, that my husband had bought me a golf club. But it proved to be a tool far more useful to me than a 2-iron: a snake hook—a 43-inch stainless steel beauty, elegant in its simplicity.

The term “snake hook” can be misleading. No flesh is pierced. You ease the U-shaped hook under a snake and lift it. The snake dangles at the shaft’s end, out of striking distance, while you figure out what to do next.

For a sublime moment, as I regarded the gift, I was as excited as A Christmas Story’s Ralphie with his BB gun. I imagined myself deftly hoisting a 2-pound rattler and … and what? Flinging it over the fence? Passing it between the spires and dropping it onto the ranchland? The affronted snake could be back in my yard before I was in the house. The phrase “fool’s errand” came to mind.

Alas, in four years, we’ve seen only one snake: a baby rattler, mortally wounded, perhaps dropped from a hawk’s talons.

The snakes are out there, I am certain, but they’ve not been in evidence—so far.

My snake hook stands at the ready, on the back porch. I feel both relief and disappointment that I’ve not had to employ it for snake removal.

But we’ve discovered its myriad other uses. Before trimming bottom branches of lantana plants, I wave the hook under the plants to flush out any creatures. My husband uses the hook’s pointy tip to pulverize abandoned mud dauber nests. And a snake hook is the perfect tool for retrieving a grandchild’s stray crayons, puzzle pieces and grapes from beneath the living room sofa.