There were many clues at first. The usually soft, packed down, pine needle laying nests were often a mess at the end of the day, the chickens were sometimes bunched in the corners of the coop and, the clincher, the missing eggs.
On weekends I started going out to the chicken coop at odd hours to surprise the latest snake invader. He was a worthy opponent. I never saw him, we were losing eggs by the handful. I mowed the grassy perimeter around the coop wider and double-checked the stone and board edge around the bottom.
It was around the cedar rafters that I noticed a few changes. Could the snake be climbing up the outside wall and sneaking in from the roof? So I reinforced the plugs in even the smallest knot holes with steel wool.
An egg-eating snake guest leaves the party slowly, stomach laden with take-home. I've never not caught a slithering intruder. Sooner or later we end up in the coop at the same time.
Late in the day on a rainy Saturday as I brought out the kitchen compost bucket I saw his black and white tail disappear around a ceiling joist. This is the worst place to try to catch a snake, hard angles, high up, difficult to reach. He got away, even after I ran outside to cover the exits. At least I knew where and how he was getting in.
Hours later, on yet another visit, after prying back a pine board flush with the roofing tin, I saw his head. And found his nest. There was a pile of skin sheddings pushed into a corner in the top of the coop. He lived way up there in squirrel territory. Ever so slowly he slithered out through a half-inch crevice. While most of his body was inside the coop, I ran outside. And there he was, six feet off the ground, moving horizontally toward an attached shed's door frame.
I couldn't trap him in my usual way with a rope loop and long pole. He was traveling too fast and hugging the wall. This time I used an axe.
He was huge. I took his sagging, limp body deep into the forest. I laid his heavy, loose, coiled remains next to a rock pile.
Hours later our biggest dog picked up the scent and started barking, his loud, insistent, warning bark. We let him in, assured him that all was well.
At sunset we went for a walk. The smell of a bloody, fresh skirmish must have still been in the air as our dog stayed close and kept looking at the ground.
We were all a bit jumpy on the path. Every errant stick and fallen branch looked like a snake.