I grew up in Northern Minnesota and had two snake choices to learn about. One was a Garter snake and the other was a small Redbelly snake. Out of those two snakes, I only handled the latter of the two.
Now when I and my two siblings, Cheryl and Vern were small, our parents took us out to Montana to visit my mother’s aunt and uncle on their ranch. While there, my brother goes outside to play only to come in a short time later to report he had seen a snake. Well, all the adults freaked out and went running outside to see the snake but it was gone. We had remained inside at our parents request, wondering what all the ruckus was about. Shortly, they all came back in with nothing to report. Uncle Bill Arbuckle then went over to a shelf and took down a mason jar. Inside of the jar he showed us rattles from rattlesnakes tails, he had collected from snakes he had killed on the ranch.
I’m not sure if that is where the fear of snakes developed for me or something else. All I know is that the whole time I’ve been on the trail I have been dreading seeing my first poisonous snake. The first rat snake was huge, but I already knew that I had nothing to fear from that snake. I kept asking Spirit for information about the copperhead, timber rattlesnake and a regular rattlesnake. Where had she seem them? What did they look like? What did they do? How big were they? But most importantly, what did she do? She reacted rather calmly to all my inquiries. Then she would look at me and chuckle. I wasn’t sure I knew how to take that. Somehow I knew I was in for it.
Every day that I hiked alone, I would say to no one in particular, because hello, I just said I was hiking alone. “Please don’t let me see a snake today.” It seemed for a long time that worked. Until I hiked into New Jerse and in one day I would see not one, but four poisonous snakes. So, let’s look at my snakenado day.
Snake 1: I was hiking along the trail, minding my own business when I came around a curve in the trail. Out of nowhere, a snake bolts off the trail, rattling it’s tail as it left. My reaction, jump back, say, “OH SHIT.” Then tell myself for the next half boy to calm down.
Snake 2: I was hiking along the trail, minding my own business when I came around a curve in the trail. I was about to head downhill and had to put on the breaks immediately. There laying half on and off the trail was a copperhead snake. His tail half was on the trail. His head was up and facing the woods. After a minute of debate, I quickly moved past on the tail end and I kept moving well out of reach.
Snake 3: I was hiking along the trail, minding my own business when I came around a curve in the trail. Oops, I mean I it was 5 :15 pm and I was hiking uphill and I happened to glance up and think, “That’s funny. Look at that black stick moving down the middle of the trail.” SAY, WHAT! I look again and a rattlesnake is coming downhill, towards me, in the middle of the trail. Breaks, put on the breaks. I toss a pebble to the side of it and it stops and looks. I start tapping my hiking poles together trying to get it to go off trail. No luck. The snake continues it’s downhill path towards me. Now thereare two trees in the path between I and that snake. So I get closer to the trees and I wait. As the snake gets nearer it veers to the outside of the left side tree. As the snake’s head disappears behind the tree, I move forward. We pass each other with the tree between us. It is then that I take a picture as it heads into the bushes.
Snake 4: It is now 5:30 pm. I locate a camping area just past the fire tower, just like the guide book stated for a change. The path is downhill and rather bushy. Right away I think snakes. I move quickly through to the camping area. There is long grass that has been flattened by multiple tenting. I chose a flat spot and set up my tent. I find my bear food rope and throw that over a tree branch. Then I stand in one place for a minute or two trying to decide what to do next.
Cook or set up gear in my tent. I hear hikers talking up above and so I go up because I’m not sure I like my lonely, kind of creepy, camp site. A young hiking couple is up near the tower at a picnic table. I join them and try to talk them into staying the night. They are set on going .6 miles to the next camping are with water. I have stopped short of that camp because a previous thru-hiker told me locals might harass hikers who are camped there. We also talk about snakes and how the couple hasn’t seen a rattlesnake yet. I decide to go cook supper as they go and check out the fire tower.
I walk back down to my camp and stop and stand at the corner of my tent checking my cell phone for messages from home. I’m not sure what draws my attention, whether it was movement or sound. I look down and behind my right foot and it takes me a few seconds to realize, I have the biggest rattlesnake I have ever seen right behind my foot with its head drawn back. I quickly move forward and to the side. As I do, the snake continues it’s path along the side of my tent and then past me. In my calmest voice ever, I call up the hill to the couple. ” Hey, are you done looking at the tower? There’s a rattlesnake down here if you want to see one.” They come and join me and film the snake as it heads across the camping area. When it has left, they tell me that if I wasn’t too come with them, they will wait until I am all packed up. Needless to say, I didn’t waste any time in taking down my tent or bear food rope and we were on our way.
Once at the new camp I sent a picture of the snake I had just had in camp. My mother called right away. She asked, “How much longer will you be in Pennsylvania?” I said, “I’m not in Pennsylvania, I’m in New Jersey.”
She then asks, “Well then, how much longer will you be in New Jersey.” I now know what she is getting at, so I just tell her. “Mom, there are rattlesnakes until New Hampshire.” There is a long pause as that sinks in and then she says “Well, be careful.” I reassure her I will and the conversation ends.
So, I will be careful and watch for snakes. I’m glad I’m not one of those that carry a machete. There would be a lot of chopped up snakes behind me in the trail. Not because I want to kill them. It would just be my knee jerk reaction. I have hiked through areas where the rattlesnake is close to being on the endangered species list. I know that as long as they don’t rattle they’re not mad. Just use caution at all times and just be glad they have a warning signal to let you know your too close. Goodbye New Jersey. Hello New York!
I leave you with an interesting fact to look up about sharks attacks in New Jersey. I couldn’t resist since it is summer and the story helped create the movie JAWS.
And for my Minnesota friends and family.