For those who detest serpents, two new champions have emerged in the fight against snakes.
Marion residents Sarah Tolessa and Alicia Nienstedt kill the legless reptiles with very little hesitation. The two have sent almost 30 snakes to their doom.
With 24 kills, Tolessa is the champion snake reaper. Snakes disturb her — always have, probably always will — and it is easy to tell she doesn’t like the way they make her feel.
“They’re gross and invasive,” Tolessa said. “I don’t like them. I don’t think anybody does.”
In recent years, snakes have been regular intruders in her yard that neighbors a ravine on Locust St. just north of Main St. in Marion, but with recent rain, she has encountered more than she can bear.
“Maybe they are born here,” she wrote to a friend online. “Maybe they have a convention here. Maybe we are taking care of the city’s population.”
This past month, Tolessa and her husband, Maranata, have been clearing out a large tangle of vinca vine on the south side of their house, adjacent to the wooded and rocky ravine.
“It’s not like I find big piles of them,” she said. “I come across them on rocks by the house or in the underbrush while we’re working outside and yell ‘Snake!’”
She doesn’t run away, however. She takes up a shovel, hammer, or whatever tool is closest, and THWACK!
She joked with a friend online “…we passed the point of humility 12 snakes or so ago.”
Maranta and her son, Anderson Waddell, 11, dispatched one of the snakes that invaded their lawn.
“The rest have pretty much been me,” she said. “The two grossest and longest were black racers or rat snakes. They were four feet long.
“I don’t know if the others were babies or just small. I think most were ringnecks. But I don’t want them to get bigger, make more babies, and populate near my house.”
After she kills a snake, she flings it back into the ravine. Some catch on tree branches and dangle like fly tape.
“I feel guilty, but I don’t want my 1-year-old daughter to get bit. And what else would I do?” Tolessa said. “Relocating them doesn’t work. They always come back. I just hate to think how many more are crawling around at the bottom of the ravine.”
Nienstedt is having a similar problem. She and her husband, Theron, have lived in rural Marion for almost five years with their two small children. Until recently, she’d seen maybe two snakes on their property.
“This is the worse year we have ever had for snakes,” she said. “I’ve seen eight. Theron has seen 12 — at least that’s what he tells me. I think he has seen more. He just doesn’t want me to know.”
She has spotted serpents in their front yard, on their patio near children’s toys, in the driveway, and near their mailbox.
“I saw one in our living room back in October,” she said. “My 5-year-old, Jeremiah, saw it. It looked dangerous, so I kept him and his sister, Gabriel, behind me while I got it out of the house.”
Theron usually catches the serpents he sees with a snake pole and releases them in a pond 200 yards from their house, she said. Recently, he found a family of seven balled up in the sump-pump hole in their basement.
“I’ve seen snakes as thick as softballs get in,” Nienstedt said. “I won’t go down there.”
If she sees a snake, it doesn’t have much chance for survival.
“I know they help control rodents, but I don’t want them near the kids, and I don’t want one ending up in my bed,” she said. “I’m not out to murder them. When I have a chance, I will leave them alone, but if a snake looks dangerous, it’s dead in an instant.”
Nienstedt said she ran over four snakes with her car in May. Each was slithering or sunning itself in her driveway.
“They were the ones that look like rattlesnakes but have no rattle on their tail,” she said. “I backed up and ran over them, backed up and ran over them. I usually drive over them about three to 15 times.
“One got trapped under the tire and didn’t die, so I had to call my father-in-law to come and chop its head off.”
Nienstedt does not fear snakes. She has held them in controlled environments. She just doesn’t trust wild snakes.
“Every time I see a snake I think of Adam and Eve,” Nienstedt said. “It doesn’t make me any more comfortable to think how Satan used a serpent as his tool to deceive them in the Garden of Eden.”