No, those are just sticks slithering into the bottom of the picture...
A recent visitor to my beloved State Forest desired to do a little hiking. He lives in Atlanta, and down here we just love poking fun at folks who live in the big city, and love to talk about how they don’t get the local culture. They are horrible outdoorsmen, and they even run their hunting dogs through our yards when deer season opens. They are rude, and they are likely to get hurt when they go outside their overpriced hotel rooms or leave the confines of their campers. Besides, they buy up all the choice real estate, steal our horses, and take our women. And they are generally ugly when they step outside those shiny black Escalades they run up and down the road in.
My pal is not really like that. Doug has hiked much of the Appalachian trail, and is an outdoorsman that does not hunt or fish, but prefers to bike, hike and paddle. That is a rarity here in my neck of the woods.
While biking alone near here in the forest, he was approached by a pickup with two men inside . They were out doing what a lot of people do here, which is cruise the woods and consume beer. Most do not speed, or raise hell, just drive around, talk and smoke cigarettes.
My pal says he struck up a conversation with them, as they were friendly. They were incredulous that he was actually riding a bicycle out here on these sandy unimproved roads. “What kind of bike is that?”, they wanted to know. The locals in the truck told him they had never seen a dirt bicycle back here in this area before. They had to stop and talk to the guy from another planet.
Doug has a premium mountain bike, with oversized 30 inch rims and fat tires which help support him through the white sugar sand. With this equipment, he leaves me and my hybrid bike like it is standing still. I have standard 26 inch rims and tires that have some knobs on them, but actually they are basically coarse street tires. “Chuck, you just gotta go faster to keep out of the bind”, he says…”If you just go faster you will float above the sand!”
I suppose if I was doing 30-mph and lost at least 30 pounds he might be right. And get in better shape.
The April morning broke dry, almost Colorado dry, but it was warm by the time the sun rose above the tree-line. Headed for High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail, we pondered what we would need more of – sun-block or Deet spray. The horseflies are starting to show up pretty good, but the sky was devoid of cloud, and it would be hot on the trail even if we had a good breeze. We would need water as there is not much shade there.
Arriving at the trailhead, we figured we would try to walk the whole thing, or most of it, but the distance hiked would be doubled because we were going to walk back as we only brought one car.
The trail rises along ancient white sand dunes which are covered with juniper, pine, titi and lots of scrub. We were cognizant of rattlesnakes, of both diamondback and pygmy variety. It is a birding trail, but is wide enough that most hazards could be seen. I brought my trusty trail dog, a Boston Terrier named Mr. Pibb. He loves trails almost as much as he loves catching the frisbee. He is not purebred, as his face is not as flat and brick like as the AKC variety. But the little bit of hound or other breed his bloodline contains makes him much sturdier than the other Bostons I have known. As long as it is not too hot, the li’l guy can out-hike me. His natural curiosity would make him susceptible to snakes, so I brought his leash.
We had hiked a few miles, and Mr. Pibb had taken the lead. In some areas, the sand was deep for such a narrow trail. We were hiking in a moderate pace, and then I froze. I was just about to step dead center on a pygmy rattler coiled up in the trail. Pibb had walked by him and was unfazed, and the rattler had not stirred. I jerked the leash back at an obtuse angle and pulled the dog back to me.
We stood three or four feet away from the rattler. Coiled up and head at rest, he just did not seem to be that menacing. But they are, as the venom is as powerful as the full sized vipers.
We took photos and discussed being more cautious. We continued on along the trail.
Some of the dunes break fairly tall, and there are some good views. The temperature was pleasant in the open areas, with a good breeze. Inside the hammocks and in the deeper cuts, though, it was getting really warm.
Damn! The last thing I saw was the snake, raising up quickly on both ends as I stepped dead center on him. I jumped about 15 feet in the air as I saw him come up off the ground on both sides of my foot. OK, maybe 18″. Like electro shock therapy, my heart was racing and I tried to figure out if I had been bitten and did not realize it. It took my racing mind a few seconds to calm and reassure myself the snake, in fact, did not magically bite through my shoe or sock. If the snake had bit, I would have felt it. We all tell ourselves that we will not allow fear to rule us. Step on a rattlesnake to prove your theory about self control.
I will spare you the ghastly photos of the results of being bitten by a rattler. Let me tell you it is not like in the movies or in the line drawings of the Boy Scout manual. You do not cut an “X”, suck the poison and spit it out (no longer recommended, as the poison can get to you quicker through mouth tissue absorption). If you get struck on a finger or hand, you will most likely incur severe damage to the tissue, deformity, or even loss of the digit or limb. The neuro-toxin breaks down the tissue near the bite. And infection will make things even worse in short order. Curious? Just google “rattlesnake bite” under google image. I have. It will make you queasy seeing half a thumb, half a hand, or a cavity on the thigh big enough for a melon to fit within it. I have a new found respect for spiders and snakes after doing some research online regarding the critters that live in my area.
Doug gets an Iphone fix so we can take the powerline road out and skip the snakes...
The amazing thing was that I never saw it. My friend was in the lead, he did not see it, and walked by or over it. My dog had walked over it. And we were not more than 5 paces apart, so the reptile clearly did not have time to crawl into my pathway in such little time. If anything, this is a testament to the power of camouflage. I had been staring, almost too much, at the pathway after spotting the first snake. I am at a loss for my ability to explain this away. I think it is like Joe Hutto says, that as animals, we humans have no privileged access to reality. Our language and layers of higher consciousness do much to separate us from the natural world. Maybe the snake’s desire to remain invisible was simply stronger than my desire to see him.
I tell my neighbor I stepped on a Pygmy rattler.
My local guy who explains stuff i see and can’t explain, asks, “was the li’l feller rolled up in a ball ’bout yea big”? His index fingers touch each other as do his thumbs. His arms are held out to demonstrate a diamond shape. I say yes. He says, “He was smack dab in the middle of the trail, too, wurnt he?
I realize I have a lot to learn in this place of wonder. From men. And beast.