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By Staff | Apr 8, 2016

It happens every year at this time of the year. Every spring, the arrival of balmy weather makes the concept of courtship seem possible once again.

Romance becomes so pervasive that a thick fog of pheromones hangs in the air. The world is transformed into a tableau of strutting and preening, grand gestures and coy glances.

And I’m not just talking about the senior prom. All of nature is straining to obey the “get your genes into the next generation” instinct.

As I write this, a guy robin is belting out his song from atop a tree outside my window. I don’t understand bird-speak, but can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s saying, “Hey all you chicks, check out the size of these lungs.”

The flowers are no better. The male part of each blossom spreads his masculine essence, willy-nilly, all over everything. Those tawdry tulips and crude crocuses and indecent daffodils should be arrested.

Down in the swampland, the frogs are croaking out their elegant (to an amphibian’s ears) springtime mating chorus. The males are serenading their prospective mates by essentially saying, “You want ugly? Get a load of these warts.”

Sometimes a chirpy little brown frog will find its way into our basement. We will learn that we have a subterranean guest when he decides to interrupt our sleep with his midnight music. It’s like having an unemployed stoner living in the cellar.

If only frogs were our only uninvited houseguests. One spring day when our two sons were young, I came into our farmhouse for a noontime meal and found my wife standing in the middle of the kitchen, brandishing a broom like a sword and using a dustpan as a shield.

A boy clung to each of her legs like baby bears who had scrambled up a tree and were now too frightened to climb back down.

“What’s going on?” I asked. My curiosity is always piqued whenever my wife repurposes household cleaning tools into weaponry.

“There’s an anaconda cobra python behind the fridge!” she exclaimed in a tone of voice normally associated with an impending nuclear attack. “The boys and I just saw it slither back there. Ick. I hate snakes!”

“Let’s have a look-see,” I said as I grabbed the icebox and muscled it from its ancient resting place.

My wife and the boys, out of deep concern for my safety, leaped up onto kitchen chairs. “Be careful,” yelped my wife. “That thing is big enough to swallow a goat.”

And there, at the corner formed by the fridge and the wall, was a harmless little baby garter snake. It was approximately the size of a night crawler.

I snatched up the miniscule snake and showed the writhing reptile to our boys. They were fascinated by the hard, scaly skin, the unblinking, cold-blooded eyes, the bifurcated tongue. It was their first interaction with an actual politician.

My wife, out of an overabundance of concern for my wellbeing, retreated to a far corner of the living room and clambered up onto the couch. “Get that icky thing out of here,” she cried, showing no compunction over whether or not her words might hurt the snake’s feelings.

The boys and I took the snake outside and released the rascally reptile into the wilds of our farmstead grove. It’s probably all grown up by now and is running for president.

My wife has shared this snake story numerous times during the intervening years, with each retelling becoming more and more dramatic. Just the other day, I heard her conclude the tale with, “And that yucky old snake was big enough to swallow a horse.”

If only our creature encounters were limited to the occasional random snake.

One late spring morning some years ago, I stepped out of the house to report for the morning milking. It would be hours before the sun would crack open the night on the eastern rim of the horizon.

The predawn silence was abruptly shattered by a series of bloodcurdling snarls and yawps from the inky depths of our grove. These angry yelps were backed up by a chorus of otherworldly moans.

It dawned on me that it was the raccoon mating season. A dispute must have broken out over who was going home with whom after a night of carousing. The ghoulish racket made my skin crawl; I wished that the critters had chosen someplace else to resolve their romantic conflicts.

What I’m trying to say is that we out here in the country don’t so much live with nature as in it.

And that those bawdy begonias really ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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