I love snakes. I know not everyone shares my feelings. I have a healthy respect for snakes in particular the aggressive and venomous Eastern Brown Snake that Cassandra meets.
Eastern Browns are common where I live and being the second most venomous land snake in the world it is the last type of snake I want to meet in my garden. Unfortunately Cassandra does not know a good snake from a bad.
I learnt a bit about snakes when I was writing Cassandra. Some snakes lay eggs and then clear off and leave their young to fend for themselves. Some snakes incubate their eggs, and some keep their eggs in their bodies until they are just about to hatch. Eastern Browns are the non-maternal type. Young Eastern Browns are said to be has venomous as adults.
Eastern Browns are fast. While they usually flee when they see you they can also be aggressive when provoked – as discovered by my other half. He was fixing the pool pump and an Eastern Brown was hanging around trying to get to the frogs living in the pool coping. It had the audacity to slither right on by a couple of times. We believe in live and let live when it comes to snakes. (Go and tell all the other snakes we are not a threat.) Besides most people who get bitten by snakes are bitten when they try and kill them. As you can imagine fixing a pool pump while a snake is poking about does make your heart beat faster, even if you know you are not the prey. When the snake started heading for the house Wayne sprayed it with the hose.
Well, that snake turned around and at a rate of knots flew at Wayne who ran very fast in the opposite direction and the pool pump remained unfixed until the next day.
The other interesting thing about snakes is they have an inner ear that allows them to pick up vibrations through the ground. They also smell by flicking their tongues into the air. Eastern Browns also have great eyesight which is probably why they are daytime hunters.
I do love snakes. Their stealth and languor and danger. They are sleek and secretive and strong. Eastern Browns are perhaps most beautiful bent into their distinctive s-shape, their yellow spotted bellies on show. If you don’t believe me look at these pictures.
In some versions of the Cassandra of Troy’s story, Apollo’s snakes lick her ears clean so she can hear the future, so of course I had to include a snake in my book! Here are some thoughts from the snake who hibernated under curious Cassandra’s house.
Eastern Brown (Pseudonaja textilis)
by Kathryn Gossow
The snake draws in heat from the sunshine and rocks and senses the movement of the warm blooded animals. He has slept beneath them through the cold season and recognises their habits as though they were a lucid dream. They do not concern him. They are too big to eat and he is too swift and secretive for them. They do not know he exists. Except the smallest one, she knows where he has been. He cannot move on to other hunting grounds yet. He is too cold and slow. The small one is no threat. He lounges unmoving, stretched long. The sun warms him, as it warmed the first of his kin, before the birth of this land, before the Rainbow Serpent shaped the rivers and the mountains. The warm blooded creatures owe their existence to him. This is his land. He can take their life the same as it was given in the beginning. Before history.
The sunshine heats his blood and his muscles begin, at last, to pulse with energy. He hungers for his first spring feed.
The footfalls shimmer through the ground, sending tiny vibrations through the snake’s lower jaw and warn him of an approach. He flicks his tongue into the air, again and again, taking scents into his mouth, until he identifies the smell. It is the smallest of the warm blooded creatures. This time he does not sleep. This time he has the ability to move. It is his nature to be secret. He slides, gracefully, silently across the rocks, into a gap, narrow, dark, away from his master, the Sun. He fills the gap. He waits. He can wait. He can slow time to an empty waiting. The warm blooded one will leave and he will return to his sunshine.