by Michael Erskine
PROVIDENCE BAY—When Marlene Fulford and her husband set out to open their Providence Bay cottage resort for the season the last thing she expected was to find a huge snake in her path, in fact, the only thing more surprising than the nine-foot yellow and black ringed reptile was probably the speed at which the story spread throughout the community after her encounter.
“I told my husband about it and he went off to the coffee club here in Prov and told people there about it,”priMs. Fulford said. “The next thing I know my phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people calling me up to ask about it,” she laughed. With just about every retelling of the tale, the snake has grown larger, longer and more detailed in its provenance.
It’s funny now, but at the time it was happening chuckling was the last thing on her mind.
“I know the area pretty well,” she said. “I have never seen anything like it before in my life.”
So just how good a look did Ms. Fulford get at this giant snake?
“When I walked up the path its tail was about two to three feet away from me,” she said. The snake was about as big around in its body as a thermal refillable coffee cup and although the ‘s’ curves of its body leading away from her made a definitive estimate of its length difficult, Ms. Fulford feels certain that, stretched out, its length would come in at least nine-to-10 feet from the blunt tip of its black tail to its v-shaped head.
Starting from just beyond the tip of its tail, the snake’s body was ringed with yellow and black stripes about two inches in width. “They were yellow and black all the way up its body,” she recalled.
The snake hoisted its head up from the ground “about a foot-and-a-half” and stared right into her face. “It looked right at me and it had two big, black eyes,” she said. “I always thought a snake’s eyes would be slit.” But as to any more detailed description, Ms. Fulford explained that by that point her concentration was on a different path. “I was trying to figure out how I was going to get away,” she laughed.
Memories of her father’s advice when confronted by a snake came to the fore and she began to stamp her feet as she backed carefully away from the huge reptile. “My father always said to stamp your feet because they don’t like the vibrations,” she said. As she backed away she kept stamping her feet and the snake seemed to settle back down, lowering its head and slithering away.
“It seemed to be headed for the river,” she said. “I am not sure where it went because I was headed the other way.”
The encounter took place around June 10 and the nearby Mindemoya River was unusually high. “It was probably up about three feet,” she said. “It has really dropped back down now.”
Ms. Fulford said that she is quite familiar with local snakes but that she has never seen anything quite like the apparition that greeted her on the path that day. “I have seen little garter snakes and the occasional water snake, but never dreamed about seeing anything like this.”
One thing did strike her as odd. “I was saying to my husband that there are normally a lot of squirrels and minks around the camp,” she said. Lately, there has been no sign of small rodents in the vicinity. “I think it is pretty well fed, whatever it is,” she said. Ms. Fulford described the snake’s body as smooth all the way down, however, so it is unlikely any large cats, dogs or racoons have fallen prey to the snake.
Ms. Fulford did try and identify the snake by its colouring and rings by putting the information into a search engine and looking at the pictures that came up. “The closest one was something with ‘India’ in its name,” she said. “But I have really been too busy opening up the cottages to have a chance to really go into it.”
Some of the rumours that have been flying about Ms. Fulford are quickly put to rest. One is that the reptile was lost by someone staying at the cottage. “No, we had just come up to open the cottages,” she said. “There were no customers around.”
Ms. Fulford said she figures the snake has left the area and “is probably out in the lake somewhere.”
One possible candidate for a local source of the reptile would be the rarely seen eastern fox snake, whose range does include Manitoulin. That snake’s colouring does match that described by Ms. Fulford, but if her estimate of the size is close, it would be a record specimen.
There is one thing that Ms. Fulford is certain of and that is her attitude toward gaining another glimpse of the reptile. “No way,” she laughed. “I don’t ever want to see it again.”
If it is an eastern fox snake that Ms. Fulford met on the pathway that day, she will likely get her wish as they are notoriously shy creatures. If the reptile turns out to be an escaped exotic pet, winter will be the salvation of squirrels, minks and raccoons alike, as those will not survive the mildest of Canadian winters.