Tuesday, June 28, 2005

One night last week I felt the powerful urge to get in my car and look for a garter snake. This was not a general urge to go herping (I get that a lot), but a specific urge to look for one garter snake in particular. I had been feeling the urge to go out and roll logs since five o’clock when I was working through a backlog of emails I’d been putting off since Thursday. I don’t know why I didn’t head out sooner, but I put off the call of the garter snake in favor of dinner and personal emails at home till 8:30, at which point I just couldn’t take it anymore. I ran out the door, took the steps to the sidewalk in threes, and jumped in my car.

I knew the log I wanted to roll. I had seen a large garter snake next to it this weekend, but I had not been able to catch her. I say ‘her’ because I’m pretty sure she was pregnant – I had almost caught her, and her back third was fat and a little soft in my hand as she slipped away into a crack in the log. She was totally inaccessible at that point unless I felt like sawing the log apart, which seemed like way too much trouble to go through for a snake I figured I could just come back and catch later.

I sprang out of my car and nearly skipped across the field to where the log is. I’m using these words like ‘sprang’ and ‘skipped,’ really cornball verbs for a twenty-eight year old bureaucrat, but that’s how I felt: elated and free, like a boy running towards a moonwalk or a swimming pool. Anyhow, I got to the log, dropped my backpack, and crouched into position. I lifted with one arm and reflexively grabbed with the other.

It was not the garter snake I was looking for, but it was a garter snake: twelve inches instead of thirty, and not pregnant in the least. The one I caught was probably in its third year and maybe sexually mature, maybe not. It had a classic garter snake pattern with a twist. There were the dark checkers on a tan background and a beige stripe down the back – what you would paint if someone asked you to paint a garter snake, but like several of the garters I’ve caught in southeast Pennsylvania it’s got this almost freakily bright blue-green coloration in between its scales that really blows me away.

I kept it. I stuck it in the bag that I had meant for its pregnant neighbor, tied a quick knot, and after looking under one more log, I headed back to the car and drove home. How’s that for a successful herping trip? I looked for all of two minutes, and I found a snake under fifty percent of the logs I tried. If you count the shed skin under the second log, I hit one-hundred percent. I probably find snakes once every fifteen hours of looking, so I bettered my snake-per-minute average by a factor of about twenty-five thousand.

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