Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Story (non-fiction): Science in Action a.k.a. Reptilian Rapture

Imagine a beautiful fall day-- it's not hard of course, for we've all been experiencing them lately. The air is crisp and cool but sunny following the previous days rainstorms. A family heads out on an autumn adventure. None is more excited than than the 5 year old boy, June Bug, for he is the herpetology expert and this trip is a search for reptiles.

It is a lovely day for driving (and a bit easier on the budget since gas prices dropped a bit) and it is not long before the family arrives at LaRue Pine Hills-- a protected natural area that lies up against the Mississippi River flood plain. The upper area features trails, picnic areas, and a magnificent lookout point. At the bottom of the massive cliff faces is dense forest and swamps. Here, along the cliffs, is the Snake Road. Twice a year it is closed to motor vehicles so as not to disturb the unusually large population of snakes that migrate from the wetlands up to the cliffs for the winter.

The family begins by walking up next to the cliff face, peering in all the cracks with a flashlight hoping to glimpse a snake. June Bug finds something; it is not as moist-skinned as a salamander so they think it may be a newt. Not too far ahead they make another small discovery, a salamander this time. These are exciting discoveries, but still no there are no signs of snakes.

They hike on and on, for nearly an hour without any snake success. Mama and June Bug are getting very tired, but Na encourages them to walk down the road at least to the marsh before turning back. Wearily they trudge on. The marsh embodies some sort of wild primal beauty with it's trunks of long-drowned trees and murky waters-- looking on, one cannot help but feel that inside it's boundaries is no place for humans.

Suddenly Mama stops in her tracks, for less than 3 feet away is a large cottonmouth. He is well-camouflaged among the fallen leaves and dark green plants which grew from the middle of the old gravel road. The cotton mouth (agkistrodon piscivorus), sometimes known as a water moccasin, is a venomous species, taking it's name from the whiteness inside it's mouth when giving a warning. A rush of excitement filled Mama as she took a step back exclaiming "Sweet!" Her reaction is strange, since she usually avoids such slang, but it is indeed a sweet moment as they have found finally found what they had come for.

They stood for a while, frozen with awe but not fear, while the snake lay equally motionless showing off his mouth just to let us know what he is capable of if he needed to defend himself. But he did not need defend himself. Although the cottonmouth gets a bad rap, and most people are very afraid of them, they are not really aggressive creatures and will not strike unless they are absolutely in danger. So they watch spell-bound until finally, with a bit of gentle prodding from a long stick, he slithers toward the waters which support such a large number of these creatures.

Mama takes a few steps, her heart still filled with excitement, and exclaims "There's another one!" And sure enough, looking out from the vegetation along the water's edge was another cottonmouth, slightly bigger than the first, his mouth open wide. He didn't stay long and so neither did the family. They walked a bit further a found 2 ribbon snakes. Mama tried to catch them, but the tiny juvenile ribbon snakes, with their long yellow stripes down the back, were far too quick for her.

Exhausted, and happy with their findings, the family heads back toward the car, thereby ending a memorable day at Snake Road.

Wishing You Exciting Adventures,
Randa the Mama with a Newfound Interest in Snakes


Sarah said...

Wow. I must say, not living in a snakey world, that your post sets me on edge!

denise said...

Oh, interesting!

I must say that my experiences with water moccasins have not been that sort of calm observation - I have indeed found them to be pretty aggressive and super freaky fast. :) So they are not my favorite snake to come across.

While I find them interesting and grew up and lived in many states where there were a lot of venomous reptiles, I am also quite happy that we (finally) live where venomous snakes are rare. My son really loves snakes though, so he would really enjoy that excitement. :)

Dawn said...

I wish I could say that I would have had the same reaction to the snakes as you...but I'll admit, I would have been SCARED! I don't want to pass that fear on to my kids though, so I try to pretend that snakes don't scare me. ;)

Mama Randa Morning Glory said...

i used to be afraid of them, and was certainly would've never stood excitedly in their presence until this past year when my son's enthusiasm was rubbed off on me and i've learn alot more about them

Anonymous said...

At first when I read this, I thought, "Damn, those are dangerous snakes!" But then I remembered that most snakes are shy. And then I remembered how the one time I encountered a wild venomous snake, almost stepping on a rattlesnake, I was perfectly calm. And that I've always been calm in front of my kids. So maybe visiting the Snake Road isn't so strange after all! (Still, I'd be more excited by the newts, I think.)

PolarBearCreations said...

Snakes are cool! I have no problems dealing with snakes. I haven't seen many here, even though thatere are suppose to be 40 different kinds in Florida
Lot's of lizzards and geckos though. Love those little lizzards. My boys ,and dogs, are always on the look for them.

TheSingingBird said...

oh i wish i had your bravery Miranda! :)

Anne said...

Wow! How exciting for you.
I haven't encounted a snake up here in the mountians yet!

RunninL8 said...

MAN! I MISS salamanders!! We used to catch them in New Jersey and keep them for a day. We'd have our fill of observing them and letting them run up and down our arms before putting them back by the stream.
Sounds like such a lovey day you had!

TheSingingBird said...
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