Snakes on a House 

Idaho family has a real-life horror flick right at home

If your house has just the usual amount of trouble—a little leak around the chimney, a stuck window or two, a little water in the crawl space—then quit your bitchin’.
If your house has just the usual amount of trouble—a little leak around the chimney, a stuck window or two, a little water in the crawl space—then quit your bitchin’. Because out in Idaho, Lyman and Jeanine Hepworth have got way more trouble than you do. The Hepworths just moved into a new home that has more snakes than it has earth and wood. They’ve got snakes on the house, snakes in the house and snakes in the yard. They’ve got snakes writhing among the rafters in the pump house. As if that weren’t creepy enough, poor old Lyman reached up to grab the pull chain on a ceiling light in his living room and grabbed hold of a snake instead. I know a little something about having snakes around the house. Back home in Burnettown, S.C., the Jowers property was pretty swampy on the west side. Besides the usual king snakes, green snakes and garter snakes, we had lots of man- and dog-killing water moccasins prowling the swamp and swimming in the creek. The rule at the Jowers house was to leave the non-venomous snakes alone, but go ahead and kill the water moccasins, because they’d kill you if they got the chance. Best I can remember, my daddy Jabo set that rule after a water moccasin dropped out of an oak tree and landed on my mother’s shoulder. The snake didn’t bite my mother, but it might as well have. She lived the rest of her life not just scared of snakes, but also lizards, ropes, sticks and water hoses. So, with my daddy openly endorsing snake-killing, I chopped up water moccasins with hoes and pickaxes, beat them to death with shovels and sticks, shotgunned them, pellet-gunned them and ran over them with lawn mowers, motorcycles and cars. I know, I know—I harmed our swampy habitat and knocked our little ecosystem out of whack. With so many water moccasins dead, there would be all the more rats, muskrats, possums and skunks in the swamp. Well, hell, I just shot them too—and the crows that came to eat them. Anyhow, back in Idaho, these poor Hepworth people don’t have the wide range of options I had back in Burnettown. They’ve got government workers helping them. Pardon me for saying so, but that’s probably worse than having snakes. Understand, the Hepworths don’t just have a few snakes. They’ve got innumerable snakes. According to Lauri Hanauska-Brown, a biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Hepworth property is a real enough snake den—a hibernaculum—where the slimey ones gather in the winter, like waitress-pinching Yankee tourists on Hilton Head. And, like the Yankee tourists, the snakes cluster up and annoy the people around them. “When it warmed up,” Jeanine told a reporter from her local newspaper, “we walked into the yard and the whole yard moved.” Yeesh. More like grass in the snakes than snakes in the grass. Don’t you know, the Hepworths can’t just kill their snakes like I killed mine. Hanauska-Brown says the snakes—which she believes are terrestrial garter snakes—are a protected species. Well, I must say that I’m relieved to know that they’re terrestrial. The last thing the Hepworths need right now is a yard full of space-alien snakes. The Idaho Fish and Game folks are willing to try relocating the snakes. But they can’t move the snakes too far away because they’ll die. And if they don’t take the snakes far enough, they’ll come right back. I’m no garter snake expert, but I did a little research and came up with this: if you want to get rid of garter snakes, you want cats and hawks, because they’ll eat garter snakes. So will chickens and pigs, which, if you don’t mind all the plucking and prepping, are pretty good eating themselves. If it were me, I’d let loose a bunch of hissing, spitting, psychotic runt cats that aren’t good for anything except catching snakes, then bring in some big hawks to relocate the cats. After that, I might run a few chickens and pigs through the yard and see how that goes. At worst, I’d end up with eggs and sausage to go with my instant grits. If I still didn’t have my ecosystem balanced, I think I’d go with a riding mower, set to cut real low. Of course, if a man wants a nice lawn, he’ll need to rent a big-ass motorized aerator every fall, to poke a lot of holes into the ground. As for the snakes still slithering through the house, I’d give them the gift of glue traps. Now, bad as it is to have every inch of your house and yard infested with snakes that the government loves more than they love you, things aren’t all bad for Lyman and Jeanine Hepworth. They’ve sent a videotape of their house, their children and their snakes to the folks who produce Extreme Home Makeover for ABC. They included video of snakes climbing and slithering all over their porch and foundation, as well as a big ball of writhing snakes. The Hepworths hope to hear from the show’s producers sometime after the first of the year. 

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