8 July 2020


   The old New Hampshire farmer paused from his work, climbed down from his tractor, and perched himself atop one of the large granite boulders at the edge of his field. He took a moment to “survey his kingdom,” and felt quite good about it. Just then, he heard a slight rustling in the grass, followed by a brief rattling sound. Looking down, he saw a large rattlesnake coiled not far from his feet.

   “’Morning,” said the snake.

   “Good morning to you,” replied the farmer, as he pulled his legs a little farther up on the rock. “You’re a long way from home. As I recall, your kind doesn’t live farther north than the Blue Hills in Massachusetts. That’s almost 200 miles from here; a long way to slither.”

   “Well, it would be, if I’d had to slither all that way but, actually, our species has been making our way north for about 20 years, now. I was born just a couple miles south of here. I must be part of the seventh or eighth generation removed from Blue Hill. We’ve been in New Hampshire quite some time.”

   “Come to think of it,” said the farmer, “You don’t sound like Boston. I detect quite a bit of North Country accent in your speech.”

   “Sure, I’m almost a native, by snake standards.”

   The farmer thought about that a moment. “Why are you here? Well, I mean, it isn’t that I’m unhappy to see you – well, not real unhappy -  but you know us North Country people take some time to warm up to newcomers. What has brought you here?”

   “Climate change,” replied the snake.

   “Climate change?”

   “Sure. When New Hampshire winters were long and cold, we couldn’t survive here all year long. With warmer weather and less snow cover, it’s getting easier. At the rate things are going, my grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, might be in Canada – speaking French in Quebec, or saying ‘ay-uh’ in Ontario.”

   “I know it’s been some years since we had a really big snow, but have things changed that much?”

   “Well, think about. Rattlesnakes in your field aren’t the only changes.” The snake paused. “How were the ticks this year?”

   The farmer didn’t have to think about that. “They were horrible! You can’t go out in the grass or into the forest without getting a bunch on you. They’ve taken a lot of the pleasure out of working in the open.”

   “So, how were they twenty years ago?”

   “Why, we could go years without seeing more than one or two.”

   “Climate change,” said the snake. ”Just like rattlesnakes, few ticks could survive through the rigorous winters of the past. Now, they love it up here. Another indication: how about poison ivy?”

   “Well, I’ve seen it not too far down country, but we don’t have it here.”

   “I don’t know,” said the snake. “My botanical training isn’t great, but that plant you’re almost leaning against looks an awful lot like it.”

   “By gum!” exclaimed the farmer, as he pulled his arm away. “It surely is. Well, I’ll be… climate change, again?”

   “You said it!”

   The farmer had to think about that for a few moments. “So, climate change is about the weather getting warmer and warmer?”

    “Not all the time. You may still occasionally have very snowy winters, or cooler than normal summers, but the average temperatures are going up from year to year. But it’s not just temperature; it’s about extreme weather conditions, and unpredictability as to what you’re going to experience next. Put all those things together, and it makes it hard for just about everything – animal or plant – to adjust. I suspect you have noticed that in your farming, already.”

   “That’s true; some years it’s one big guessing game.”

   “I’ll bet one thing you noticed changing is your maple syrup harvest – some years, not knowing when the sap will start to flow, and some years not getting cold enough to even have a good sugaring season.”

   “Well, that is definitely true. As a matter of fact, sugaring is hard enough work in general, without being unsure if you’re going to get enough to make it worthwhile. Do you know that my sugar shack requires twice as much wood to boil down the sap as it takes to heat my house all winter?”

   “I did not know that, maple sugaring not being in the normal snake repertoire.” The farmer was tempted to comment that this snake obviously knew a lot of stuff that wasn’t normally in a “snake repertoire,” but Mr. Rattler had more to say. “Of course, with maples it goes well beyond sap production. Maples can’t live here if it gets too much hotter. That eventually means no maple syrup industry, but it also means that a lot of wildlife loses its preferred environment, and – for the State economy – it means a lot less world-famous fall color to attract the tourists.”

   That caught the farmer’s attention, but his mind was on things that seemed closer to home for him. “What really bothers me is the expansion into the area of ticks, poison ivy, and – no offense meant to you – rattlesnakes. We’ve never had anything poisonous up here.

   If a snake could laugh, he would have laughed. “No offense taken, but did you maybe forget the swarms of venomous mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies that reign over the entire North Country through the spring, summer, and sometimes fall?”

   “That’s different. They’re supposed to be here.”

    “If you say so,” said the snake. With that, he uncoiled and slithered out of sight. The farmer started to climb off his rock, when suddenly the snake rattled loudly right under him. He made quick time pulling himself back up on the rock.

   “Just kidding,” said the snake, and again began to slither away. “But remember: things aren’t what they used to be, and won’t be the same tomorrow. Watch where you put your feet, check your clothing carefully when you go indoors, and have lots of calamine lotion on hand for the poison ivy.”



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