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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Not a Sidewinder but a Bull Snake

I’ve found the wildlife around here fascinating, and am getting to know a number of creatures I’ve never had much to do with before. I am particularly enjoying the presence of the turkey-buzzards. Most days when I’m out, particularly on the tops, they’ll swoop a little lower check me out, their dark shadows, flitting across the grass, alerting me to their presence. I often stand and watch their graceful flight, the way they climb, facing into the wind, without appearing to expend any energy, the lazy circles they describe, high in the sky. 

Having said that, I do worry about two particular types of crittur. One is bugs, especially those that bite or sting, although later this week I’ll be collecting that screen door and should feel more protected in the house. The other is snakes. I’ve decided against taking up the offer of a rifle. The way I see it, I’m not going to carry one around when I’m hiking, and if I do happen upon a nest of rattlers out in the hills I’ll simply avoid it on future walks.

So up till now I’ve been fairly calm on the subject. This past weekend, however, I’ve had a couple of unpleasant surprises. The first was that time down where the herons nest, the brown and white thing – I think those were the colours – that slithered so quickly across my boot. At the time I convinced myself that I didn’t mind, that it was probably non-poisonous – more scared of me than I was of it, and so on.  Then on Sunday, when we were driving home with the giant fossil, we parked up and decided to look at one or two blow-outs on the top of the bluffs, just upstream of here. That’s where people have been telling me you find arrow-heads. We put in half an hour or so, failed to find anything, decided to leave it for another day, and set off towards the house.  Which was when this little fellow slithered across our path.



There’s no denying it: he made me jump. And then, just as I had on the first encounter, I managed to be sensible, calm, rational. The snake stopped, probably frozen in terror, and stared at me while I pulled out my camera. Then it moved on a couple of feet, and I’m sure it was that movement, sinuous, silent, effected without benefit of any limbs, that troubled me. Calm as I was in my behaviour, I was feeling disturbed inside. My guts were definitely wobbly. And yet at the same time, looking at its colours, I couldn’t help thinking that they gave it the look of a child’s toy snake, made of rubber and spray-painted in a factory somewhere in Asia.



I took a couple of snaps and we moved on, heading for home. We were almost there when Phil reminded me that we’d left the car at the top of the trail. I asked him to go and fetch it while I walked the rest of the way. I’d gone a couple of hundred yards when I spotted this beauty coiled up beside the narrow track.


I jumped several feet sideways, and heard myself gasp. My first thought was, ‘rattler’; but it was making no sound and seemed either very calm or very frightened. I wasn’t even sure that its eyes were open.

I was – pardon the expression – rattled. No question about it.  But I did fire off one shot with the camera before I saw Phil trundling down the hill in the car. I made a careful note of the snake’s precise position in relation to a large soapweed and ran towards him, flagging him down. By the time we’d walked the thirty yards back to where I’d left him, the snake had vanished.

But that wasn’t the end of our reptile encounters. It wouldn’t be, would it, because don’t things always happen in threes? As we looked around for the missing snake we found this harmless little Sandhill tortoise.



The green and yellow snake, we found later, was a racer, the big fat thing a bull snake, known for occasionally imitating, and being mistaken for, a rattler. Both are pretty harmless. Yes, I thought, a I read up the notes in Google or somewhere, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t cause me harm. Later that day, when I called home and told my partner about what we’d seen, I realised that, calm as my account to her may have been, my insides were once again quivering as I spoke. My head had realised there was nothing to fear, that there had been no danger from either snake, but my body had reacted with an animal terror. It’s worth adding that even when I inspected the photos back at the house I found the images repulsive, and started trembling again. Interesting. I suppose there are feelings we can control, and feelings we can’t.

Well, now that I’ve got that off my chest I can turn my attention to the next posting, and another matter that has been causing me some trepidation, Monday’s flight in a Cessna 150, with the Chainsaw at the controls.