Summer is here, and so are my snakes.
Well, technically, I don’t have snakes and, ironically, I don’t even like them. I squeal and wiggle dance every time I see one. But every summer I see so many snakes that God must be shaking a heavenly finger, tsk-tsking me for not considering herpetology as a career choice because my life has turned out to be a snake lover’s dream.
Once the weather warms, snakes come out to greet me wherever I go. As an avid Pittsburgh trail runner, I frequently jump over black snakes that stretch out across the path to enjoy the sun. They look like sticks and I’m told they are harmless, but those reptilian tricksters have taught me to be suspicious of every twig I see.
My husband could hit the trails every day and never see a snake until he ventures outdoors with me. He even jokes about it. When we were hiking in the foothills of Los Angeles a few years ago, we went miles without seeing a snake, until he told me to take the lead.
“Now we’re going to see a snake,” he laughed.
Sure enough, within two minutes, I slammed to a halt to give a big gopher snake time to slither up a rock into the brush.
One of our most disturbing snake sightings occurred when we were hiking at Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County. We were trucking past an old stone wall and noticed that it was covered with long, thick, vines. Only they weren’t vines. They were snakes, probably a hundred of them, packed side by side and draped over the top of the wall, all angling to catch the morning sun.
My innards flipped at the sight of so many snakes and my instinct to flee was so strong I couldn’t even pause to take a picture.
Sometimes unusual snakes come out for me.
Last year, I was walking with my sisters at a ranch in Tucson when a long, pink snake slithered across the sidewalk. This time, I had enough sense to grab my cell phone to take a picture. I hurried to the Nature Center at the ranch to ask what it was.
“Where did you see that?” the volunteer “ranger” asked incredulously.
“On the sidewalk outside,” I pointed.
“Wow, not many people see that,” he said. “It’s a pink coach whip.”
Seriously, whoever heard of a PINK snake?
That evening, I had another opportunity to screech “snake!” when my sister came a few inches from stepping on a rattlesnake. A photo seemed unnecessary or advisable at the time.
My husband and I just returned from hiking in Arizona, and when we arrived at our campground outside of Sedona, we noticed odd signs posted everywhere that read “Brake for Snakes, Even in Water” (which seemed an unlikely place to apply car brakes.) Anyway, we learned that the area was home to an endangered, non-venomous type of garter snake, which I fully expected to run across. We didn’t, but hiking down from a mountain named Wilson, we did see what I later identified as a Striped Whip snake.
The next day, when we somehow wandered off the West Fork trail, we stopped dead in our tracks, afraid to take another step when we came across a red-banded, terrifying and venomous-looking creature that looked like this.
From a US Forest Service, Red Rock Ranger District brochure
“That looks poisonous!” I shrieked.
“Is it a coral snake?” my way too calm husband asked as he fumbled with his cell phone camera.
We didn’t get a picture because by the time he switched the camera off selfie-mode, the snake had slipped into the shrubbery. However, I was so alarmed by our near brush with a dangerous snake that I spent an hour researching Sedona-area snakes until I was satisfied that what we saw was this non-venomous Sonoran Mountain King snake and NOT a Coral Snake, which thankfully, did not live in the higher elevations of Oak Creek Canyon.
So summer is here, my favorite time of year. Being the outdoorsy gal I am, I look forward to hiking, trail running, camping and backpacking. I can’t say I look forward to seeing snakes, but I’m no herpetologist.
Ann K. Howley is the author of the award-winning memoir, Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad. She writes a monthly feature for Pittsburgh Parent Magazine and her essays have also appeared in publications nationwide, including skirt! Magazine, Bicycle Times Magazine, and Pittsburgh Post Gazette. She teaches writing-related classes for CCAC’s community education program and is helping to organize The Authors’ Zone (TAZ) Writers’ Conference at CCAC in September 2018. An entertaining and thought-provoking speaker, Ann loves to convince people that their lives are worth writing about.
Confessions of A Do-Gooder Gone Bad is a humorous coming of age memoir about a well-intentioned “problem child” raised by conservative, evangelical Christian parents in Southern California during the Sixties and Seventies. As she naively stumbles through her youth and young adulthood, one misadventure after another, she also struggles to reconcile her ultra-Christian upbringing with women’s liberation, prejudice, protest and poverty during this turbulent era, eventually gaining a different perspective of faith in a world more complicated, funny, terrifying and wonderful than she expected.