The Gravitationist

Like evolution, gravity is only a theory,
but I feel the truth of both in my bones.

23 September 2006

Last snake of summer

There on the dam, sunning in the stone of our two-track lane next to the pond, lies a three-foot cottonmouth. I think this has not been a good year for snakes (actually, not a good year for humans, either). So, as I drive back from the Post Office, fate chooses this last day of summer for my first 2006 encounter with a moccasin.

Granted, I have not been working around the grounds much this year, for various reasons. In previous years, I encountered dozens of snakes, most of them non-venomous. The only poisonous snakes I have seen around our place in 10 years are a couple of itinerant copperheads and the many members of several generations of our pond's ruling family, the water moccasins. Last fall I stirred up a fat five-footer in a clump of bushes bordering the pond.

This year's drought devastated the insect population (except for cicadas and grasshoppers). The spiders, normally profuse during August, had slim pickings. With so few flying insects, the spiders mostly died off by mid-September. The wasps, which capture live spiders to feed to their larvae, ran out of sustenance and virtually disappeared, leaving far fewer nests than normal.

Water moccasins mostly hunt at night, eating fish, frogs, lizards and other snakes. Without the usual hordes of insects this year, those species have been on short rations.

I expect the snake to hurry into the weeds as I drive onto the dam, but it stays put. Mocs are that way. Sometimes they move toward an intruder. I cut the wheel, roll up slowly beside the sleek beauty and open the door for a better look. Yes, a dark-chocolate moccasin, not a blacksnake. We converse silently for a few moments. The snake does not show me its white mouth. As I open the door wider for a better look, Ol' Moc retreats. Through the weeds it slips, down to the water's edge, away from the human threat.

I close the door, drive on up to the house. Each in our own habitat, our own lives. The way it is.


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