Sunday, October 07, 2012

This post has taken so long that I've been out again to the same spot. This is a good thing because I didn't find much on the first trip, just a cute but squirmy little ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)...

...and the tail of a basking rattler (Crotalus horridus). Now, that tail looked kind of skinny. I had to wonder if this is a girl who just gave birth and is hanging around a bit before making the hike back to the den for the winter.

On the next trip I brought Magnolia, with all the attendant handicaps and benefits. We didn't see much out in the woods, but Magnolia reminded me how to have a good time. Each tree had more bark to inspect, and these rocks weren't just good for rattlesnake housing, they were a pleasure in their own right.  

So the day wasn't a total failure when I gave up (I would have asked Magnolia for her opinion but she had fallen hard asleep.) and started hiking back to the car. 

And if my herping experience has taught me anything it is that you don't actually give up until the moment you shut the car door. 

This is why: 

This black rat snake was a beast (I don't know what it is with this road on this mountain, but I'll keep coming back), and I couldn't walk past without at least trying to make its acquaintance. 

Of course I had that handicap I mentioned earlier: about nineteen pounds of baby slung on my chest. So I took the photo above, tucked the camera away, briefed Magnolia on the plan, and carefully reached for the snake in sort of a slow-motion lunge that ended with me on my knees and my left hand and with my right hand holding a warm, muscular coil of the snake, which was now waking up and winding around the vegetation. (I'll mention that it was doing so very slowly and calmly, like it was annoyed that I had woken it up but not exactly angry or scared.)

It was my left hand that informed me of the thorns. I hadn't considered the species of plant the snake chosen for its refuge, but it was all blackberry. 

I realized I faced a choice: I could crawl forward and try to extricate the snake, but that would involve dragging myself and Magnolia (who was watching the snake like she wanted to grab it - she is truly my daughter) through the briers and bringing her home to her mother covered in scratches. I could also let go of the snake, which would mean not catching it as well as enduring the disappointment of Magnolia (you could argue she's too young to be disappointed, and you'd probably be right, but she'll probably read this someday and think, 'Dad, you wuss, why didn't you catch that snake?'). 

I let go (for real, and I'm not just writing that because my mother-in-law reads this blog). I was sure the snake would bolt off into the woods, but instead it turned and gave me the gift of a good pose. I'm not sure if it was just a little scared and angry from having been grabbed (as if to say, 'hey there, good sir, I was taking a nap!') or just too stupid to realize I had been defeated by the briers, but it reared back in a half-hearted defensive coil before sliding away, which gave me one more halfway decent photo. 

I know that a garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) isn't exactly a lunker black ratsnake, but this sighting was a little victory of its own. Many times I had walked past this spot on the road and heard a small snake retreating into the brush. Each time I had thought, 'sounds like a garter snake.' Maybe it would sound the same as a baby racer (Coluber constrictor) or any other similarly small snake, but garter is what I imagined, and garter is what I found basking right there on top of the brush along the side of the road. 

I let it enjoy the sun. 

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