Raynardton, Yarmouth County Nova Scotia

Strawberries and Snakes

Sandra Phinney


Around noon on a perfect sky-blue day, daughter Margo MacGregor and our twin grand daughters Ellie and Lucy set off to the annual Strawberry Festival at the Lake Vaughn Fire Hall—a mere ten minutes from my home.

I can't believe that I've lived in this region for over forty years and have never attended this festival. Heaven knows how many volunteers it takes to pull it off, but there seemed to be a never-ending supply of cold plates (ham, potato salad and coleslaw), rolls, strawberry shortcake, tea/coffee and sweets galore.

As we were being served, it dawned on me that volunteers are really our unsung heroes and heroines. They do so much for our communities. Especially in rural Canada, there’s always a bake sale, raffle, or community supper on the go to help a family or organization. It’s quite astounding, when you think about it.

Anyway, outside, the firemen had several BBQs on the go; inside one of the garages was a giant flea market. Before the kids left, they each had a "barrel pull" whereby they could select one item to take home. This was a tough choice for Ellie who had a prize in each hand and her eye set on one more.

But the highlight for the twins came later when we went to the Yarmouth Library to see Aubrey Hillyard's snake show. At some point Aubrey unrolled the skin of a sixteen-foot Burmese Python. This was a memento of the first snake he had raised, and he's been breeding them ever since.

At the time of doing this show, Aubrey owned about one hundred adult Ball Pythons (Python regius), so-called because when scared, they roll up into a ball. They are the preferred snake for breeders who sell pet snakes, as they are relatively docile. Aubrey had around thirty baby snakes and planned to quadruple that amount within the year.

He also raises and sells about ten thousand African Soft Furred Rats (ASFs) for snake food, saying "Pythons love them. I raise them on a premium rodent diet, and add lots of fruit and vegetables. Then I euthanize them with Co2 gas, freeze them and sell different sizes in 6-packs." Not to be confused with beer.

Lucy and Ellie were mesmerized by the display and felt pretty grown up to hold a python. Me, I kept my distance and was happy to take photos.

For a walk on the wild side, after we returned home, I checked out Aubrey's Facebook page, Pinnacle Pythons. One of his posts showed a snake curled around several large white eggs. It read, One of my 2 most anticipated clutches. Female is het ghost 50% het clown father double het for the same. 4 good eggs, one big clear and 1 boob. Now for the wait.

As his phone number was on his Facebook page, I called him and asked what this meant. A half hour later, my head was still spinning. Let's just say that these are standard generic terms, and that snake lovers soon learn the lingo.

But here's the clincher: I assumed that Aubrey had come in from the city of Halifax (three hundred fifty kilometres away) to give this demo. Not so. He and his family live in he crow flies, that's about eight kilometres from his house to ours. GULP.

I wondered for days how long it would take for a python to slither eight kilometres.