I grabbed Alex's arm. "Stay close," I said, and began to scan the ground for what I knew was there - a snake.
I'd expected to see a greenish rat snake or some other constrictor, but was surprised to see it was a black racer that had caught the rodent. The rat was little more than a weanling, but still a good-sized meal for such a reptile.
Black racers aren't venomous. And they aren't constrictors. They have to kill their prey by overpowering it, by swallowing it alive. I've seen many snakes feed, but none like this. I sent Alex for the camera.
It took fifteen minute for the snake to subdue the rat. It was a remarkable, almost holy experience to be there in that place and that time playing witness to such a primal struggle. It was terrible and beautiful and poignant, and while I felt a bit of sympathy for the rat - I did not interfere and explained to Alex that this was simply what happens when Wild Things get hungry.
The rat continued to struggle as the snake worked its powerful jaws around to the front of its head. There was one, final scream as the racer closed its jaws over the rat's face, cutting off its air supply. The rat continued to struggle, its front paws grasping at anything and everything around it to try and stop its progression into the snake's mouth. But it was no use.
The late morning sun was high in the sky when the rat finally stopped struggling and the racer dragged it back through the grass, knowing the process of swallowing would make it hard to move and vulnerable to heat and predators. Once in deeper grass, the snake began to work its detachable jaws over the rat's head and down its body. Like the kill, the consumption was no quick process.
As the rat descended down the snake's throat, its flexible scales and ribs stretched to accommodate the meal, giving the racer an appearance that was more lizard than snake.
But finally, nearly forty minutes since we'd heard the distressed rat's screams, it was disappearing down the racer's throat. Its tiny feet and tail paused briefly at the opening of the snake's mouth before the powerful muscles pulled it completely out of sight.
The snakes powerful muscles continued to work, until the bulge of the rat became compressed and almost unnoticeable in the center of its slim body.
The snake sat for one more moment before easing away into a tangle of banana plants. It will be another week before it will need to feed again, another week until the drama plays itself out in the quiet of our garden while we work and play around it, completely unaware of the wild beauty. Of the horror. Of the necessity we humans often fail to completely comprehend.
Alex and I watched the spot the snake had occupied for a few more moments before silently going back inside. There's little to say after witnessing something like this, little that needs to be said. It is Nature, and words cannot do it justice.
(**Less squeamish readers can click on the photos to enlarge them, if they dare.**)