This Labor Day weekend found my family spending visiting with family at my aunt’s mountain cabin just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. In early afternoon on Sunday, Scott, Mom, and I heeded 9-year-old Maya’s request for a hike. We drove to the nearby Rocky Knob park to explore.
The hike was very quiet. We had brought along binoculars, but it was too in-the-middle-of-the-day for there to be much bird activity. We did find a little Eastern Phoebe flitting around the trail, and Scott and Mom stopped to watch it as Maya and I got a little bit ahead of them.
We stopped an waited near a large rhodedendron for Mom and Scott to catch up. After we stopped, I heard a rustle in the leaves and took a look to see what little bird was making the noise.
Hello, big, fat rattlesnake!! This guy was hanging out on the ground about 10 feet from us. I got so excited, I forgot my husband’s name and just made strange noises to get the others to come see. Turns out there was no urgency. This fat, lazy guy was going nowhere fast. The timber rattler (about 3 1/2 feet long, and, incidentally, probably the most toxic of the three venomous snake species in Virginia) just hung out there, basking in the sun, while we watched him, amazed. It has been years since I encountered a rattlesnake in the wild – a Blacktailed Rattlesnake was my only other encounter in Arizona in the summer of 1994.
As the snake lazily inched forward to a sunnier spot, completely unconcerned about our presence there, I marveled not only at it’s beauty, but also at the odds of having seen it. If we looked away, it was so well-camouflaged that it took a few seconds to find it again. For me to have seen it, I had to have stopped at that very spot, and it had to have moved right then. How many creatures had I passed other times, right under my nose? Chances are, they knew I was there even if I was too noisy and fast to notice them.
Speaking of which, after we’d be watching this big guy for at least 5 minutes, Scott looked by his foot and saw this just a couple feet away:
This Eastern garter snake was right under our noses, too, as we were distracted by his much more compelling cousin. How much do we miss when we are distracted? Richard Louv writes in The Nature Principle about the idea that we have well more than five senses – but that when we spend too much time indoors we lose the ones that make us very aware in nature. We can’t feel the presence of other living creatures the same way they sense us when we are near them.
This was such a short little hike outside that I can’t say I exercised my sixth sense any, but I certainly was made aware of its weakness in me. What’s the remedy? More time outside, in the woods. Can’t wait.