Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Serpents' Lair

I posted not too long ago about a new hobby I developed during the last few weeks of school, when obligations had died down and spring was rising to life. While my roommates were studying for finals, I began taking lonely walks around some of the public nature parks in Athens. My adventures had been fruitful, giving me time to think, pray and read as well as giving me occasion to hone my observation and note-taking skills.

The Wednesday of finals week, I decided to head out to the Oconee Forest Park, located next to the UGA intramural fields. I think I've been there once before for a short jog, but I had never taken the time to slowly walk the trails or take in the scenery. Inside the forest park, which is used to educate forestry and wildlife majors, the criss-crossed web of trails winds over ridges and streams, making for a great leisurely hike. On the back of the property, there is a pond that is currently being restored. Here my newest tale begins.

My encounters with wildlife at the parks had been tame up to this point, limited mostly to harmless creatures like box turtles or blue herons, those known for beauty and tranquility rather than ferocity. I thought today would be no different. An element of risk or danger is essential for any adventure, but aside from the slight worry that comes when you venture out into the woods without telling anyone, I was pretty carefree.

I had crouched down at the edge of the pond to take a picture of two turtles in strange sitting positions, each on his own rock. Their back feet extended out like a motocross racer getting some huge air, while their front feet were clutched tightly to the rock. They sat like this motionless for as long as I had stood there, one next to the other. It was only when they heard my approach and plopped into the water that I was really convinced that they were alive and not just statues set up by some weird forestry students.

Climbing the bank, I stepped over one of those black vinyl land barriers they put around construction sites, and I heard a rustling in the gravel to my right. About four feet away from my right foot was a small snake, about two feet long. Startled, a slowly moved behind the barrier he was coiled up against. I'm no Jeff Corwin; I had no clue whether the thing was poisonous or not. And the fact that he was poised to attack made me not want to find out.

At this point, I hadn't even made it to the woods yet. So I took a left on one of the trails and ducked into the forest. It seems like there were cardinals everywhere, but they wouldn't let me get a picture. Until I started this new hobby, I hadn't realized there were so many of them in Georgia.

With the initial shock from my snake encounter over, I thought I was in the clear. Almost dying once is enough for one day. I called Katy and told her about the experience. Understandably, she wasn't too excited. Back on the grounds of the IM fields, I closed the phone and kept walking down the path that runs next to Lake Herrick. As soon as I hung up, my eye caught some movement where my my right foot was about to fall.

Before my brain could even process it fully, I drew my foot back and jumped backwards to let the intruder, a four-foot snake, cross the path. He hurried into the brush looking as frightened as I was. As far as he was concerned, I was the intruder.

Flustered again, I crossed a bridge over the lake and saw yet another snake swimming in the lake. Quickly, I (with a lot of help from Katy) decided it was time to go. Strange, I went all the way to an uninhabited island in the Pacific and didn't see any snakes, but here in Georgia on a leisurely stroll, I saw two and almost ended up with their fangs in my feet.

God wasn't kidding when he said that snakes and humans weren't going to get along.

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