Snake Burial on Memorial Day

So…ours was not your typical American Memorial Day celebration. It consisted, most notably, of my son burying a snake that our neighbors killed. The “murder” of this creature was a great tragedy to my child. He could not let it go until he had a chance to bury the fallen. It was an odd sort of Memorial Day for me, a day generally given to honoring our nation’s dead and acknowledging the sacrifice so many have made. Ironic, I guess.

Our neighbors — good people all — killed a garter snake on Saturday because it was “going for” their three year old. (My son told me that’s what they said, but I did not hear this first hand.) My boy was crying at the time that he told me the news. Crying and shaking his head.

“Those snakes don’t hurt anyone. Their teeth feel like velcro!”

More tears. Sob.

Maybe they don’t know very much about snakes, honey. I mean, it’s possible…no, I’m positive, they MUST not know much about snakes. They were just acting in a natural way. When people are afraid, this is the kind of thing they do.

“REALLLLLY???” His look of incredulity was marked. No doubt he took it for granted that everyone knows garter snakes are harmless.

Yes, really Not everyone knows how to identify snakes. Not everyone knows that snakes are beneficial. But maybe you can help teach them about snakes and how important they are for our ecosystem. Next time you catch a snake, maybe we can go over there, and you can teach them what you know.

“Okay….Can I bury it?” More tears.

Hmmm. This presented a bit of a problem. The snake had been tossed into the bushes in the neighbors’ yard after bashing in its head with a rock. Burying the dead critter would entail stealing it from their yard and taking it to our own to seek the restitution only a ceremonial burial (or court trial) could provide. I automatically saw why my son wanted to do this. But I also thought of the difficulties.

Maybe. We’re going over there for barbeque supper tonight. Maybe you can bring the snake home after dinner…? We’ll see.

As it turned out, shortly after we arrived (and after much going back and forth bringing our food items over to their yard), my son took matters into his own hands (which he assured me that he washed thoroughly) and whispered in my ear that he had taken the dead snake to our yard. Gulp. Wait and see.

Sure enough, a half-hour later or so, the neighbor kids came running up to the adults to say that the snake had DISAPPEARED!!! Gulp. Time to come clean.

Er. My son was upset about the snake … dying. He loves snakes and pretty much spends all summer catching snakes, building them little habitats and all that. So, he, uh, well, he took the snake home to bury it. Um. Half smile.

The next day, he dug a hole and laid the creature to rest. He covered the grave with a big rock. It was Memorial Day.

My husband did not know what to make of our son’s insistence on doing this. But it made perfect sense to me. He feels the injustice, the waste, in the killing of an innocent creature. “There was no reason for them to do it, Mommy!” No. It was loss of life for no good reason. A killing perpetrated out of fear and ignorance. I can’t help but think of our young men and women in the military dying in a war based on ignorance and fear. I do understand why the dead must be buried.

4 Responses

  1. Yep, we do tend to want to kill things that we’re afraid of. Very true.

    I hope your son can keep this sense of justice and care for those things different and innocent as long as he can. It is very obvious he has a good heart.

    Great post.

  2. Thanks. Yes, he’s a kind soul. I foresee he’ll do great things to help our planet when he grows up. Frankly, I can’t imagine him doing otherwise. Caring for the earth and all its creatures seems so intrinsic to who he is and always has been.

  3. Beautiful story, more so because of how beautifully it was written! (And I used to play with garter snakes as a small child. Not that my mom liked it, but the snake “went” for their kid? I don’t think so.) Really enjoyed this.


  4. Thanks, Ginny. Yeh, it’s strange, what they supposedly said. I told my son that I thought that maybe they had been raised in a city?? How could anyone be afraid of a little snake? Grossed out maybe. But come on — a foot long reptile “going for” a three foot kid? Just scoop the kid up — quicker than bashing the poor snake’s head in!

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