a childhood saved

A Naturalist's Notebook

When I was 14-15 years old, I wrote a series of 23 essays as a weekly assignment for my high school English class. I called the series "A Naturalist's Notebook." Naturalist's Notebook Table of Contents

Snakes: January 16, 1974

A few summers ago, I was very interested in snakes. I would go on long hikes to find them. I only caught 2 1/2 snakes during the summer (I say 2 1/2 because I had one in my hands but he squirmed out), but it was fun trying. I collected [shed] snake skins, and had more luck: three six-foot pilot blacksnake skins, 4 or 5 northern watersnake skins, and a milksnake skin. One of the six-footers was found in an abandoned shed at Brinton Brook Sanctuary. The other two were found in somebody's basement! The milksnake skin was found in that somebody's basement, also. The watersnake skins were found at our lake.

Now, to the snakes. My first snake was caught when I was out in Lake Woodrock, a lake near my home. I was out with Dave Bath, and we were skimming algae, a rather interesting job. I saw a northern watersnake and scooped it up in the skimmer. All I could see was piles of algae.

"Oh shucks," I said, "I missed him." Suddenly, a head lunged out and I made a grab for it. It, very conveniently, grabbed me. As Dave held it and gently pried the head from my hand, I was struck by the beauty of the creature. He was a dark brown with lighter ornamental brown markings. I took him by the neck and waved to the people on shore [with my other hand]. To make a long story short, I got home and put him in our snake cage.

The second snake was caught by me in our lake. Again, I was out in our boat. He was sitting on a branch over a rock wall. He saw me, scurried off the branch and halfway into a hole in the wall. I grabbed his last half and started pulling. Pow! Moral: never grab a snake that's got his front half in a hole. I made another trip to the medicine cabinet.

This critter escaped from the snake cage. (I had let the first one go after 5 days.)

I have had several unique experiences with snakes and other reptiles. My most frightening experience was being five feet away from a wild timber rattlesnake at Peterson's Pond by Blue Mountain Reservation.

Even a harmless watersnake can be unnerving, especially when he is 4-5 feet long and as thick as your fist. Those critters can pack a lot of power into their bites. My little snakes (2 1/2 feet and 18 inches) were too weak to hurt much.

I've gone through a lot for snakes: crawling in dusty cellars, sinking boats, overturning boats, getting bitten, and getting weird looks from people. But a good snake is sometimes worth the trouble.

Next: "Unusual Experiences" January 23, 1974