It was a typical summer afternoon in Portland: 80 degrees, dry, and sunny. I was riding my bike home from work through a working class neighborhood of small, well-maintained houses with tidy lawns and small trees when I noticed something in the street.
It looked like a snake. But why would a snake be lying in the middle of the street in suburbia? I ride through this neighborhood a few days a week, year round so I know it well. There are often toys scattered on the sidewalk or gutters nearby, so I initially assumed that’s what I was seeing. But as I got closer, the object, was coiling up like an organized length of thin rope. It turned out to be one of the largest native garter snakes that I’ve ever seen.
I stopped pedaling within a foot of the beast and tried to shoo it out of the street, but it not only stood its ground, but it hissed at me. I stepped back, admiring its ardor. The yellowish lines on the snake’s skin moved gently up and down as it breathed, but no other muscle moved. I looked around for cars and seeing none, dismounted from my bike and used my foot to scare the snake out of the travel lane. Normally, even the biggest snakes around here will slither away at the approach of a human, but this one allowed me to touch it before it even started to move.
Then is struck at my shoe, but didn’t budge. I tried again several times, only to get it to move a few inches. I didn’t want to risk the getting bit or having it excrete its stinky musk on my hands so I wasn’t about to pick up this obstinate creature, but I knew that it wouldn’t survive long here.
I stood for a while wondering just how much a snake was worth. Was it worth a bite? The time to save it? Did all of the bugs and small creatures it eats have a redeeming value worth more investment? Or was this just an outlier, born for extinction? If it had it gotten this big without my help, was I misjudging its ability to survive? In the end, I rode away leaving the snake, but dissatisfied with my decision, but what else could I do?
I never saw that snake again, alive or dead.