One of the aspects of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike that I am not ready to warmly embrace is the presence of snakes. I totally understand and affirm that I am treading on their land and their homes. I am the visitor and they are the residents. I want to be a good pilgrim and pass by without confrontation. I am not seeking times of fellowship and sharing. I am not hoping for long conversations and philosophical exchanges. I have read and have placed my confidence in the “fact” that these snakes are extreme introverts when it comes to human social interaction – they would rather not fight or kiss but rather hideaway off line or off trail.
I really don’t like any snake – probably because I am never sure that my identification is correct. My research confirms that nonvenomous snakes, such as the garter snake and the black rat snake are much more commonly seen than either the rattlesnake or the copperhead, and that they too shy away from hikers. A common warning from several sources: “Remember that any snake will bite, so watch, but don’t approach or try to touch, the snakes you find along the Appalachian Trail.” I will try to keep this in mind when I have the urge to pick one up or invite it to tea and crumpets.
There are two cousins that I hope do not make my photo album of the adventure – the rattlesnake and the copperhead. The big boy rattlesnake is normally 3 to 5 feet long (although they will be magnified in length through the bifocals of a 64 year-old thru-hiker). They love to make their homes in Pennsylvania and Virginia but they can certainly “strike” a pose in any state along the AT. They do enjoy using their rattles to welcome or warn all passersby. Although several rattlers together might make an interesting percussion section, I would prefer to sing acappella so I will try my best to heed the maracas of the wilderness.
The shorter cousin (between 2 and 3 feet long) is a bit stealthier on the trail. The copperhead with the stylish triangular-shaped head and hour-glass body tattoos has a beautiful tan denoting his favorite daytime activity – sunning on the rocks. The bronze camouflage makes the copperhead difficult to see on a leaf laden path or on the reddish clay that is common in the southern sections of the AT. The copperhead is mostly found in the drier, rockier parts of the trail. They have been spotted as far north as Massachusetts but they are more abundant along the trail between Georgia and New York.
I hope to avoid these good neighbors and allow them to freely roam without us making acquaintance. But if we do meet I will let them speak with forked tongue and I will try to keep my wits and sidestep their bite.
Photo Copperhead http://www.copperhead-snake.com/