Snakes In the Morning

Before proceeding further with this blog, I have to make a note related to my previous blog. There was a picture of a bird in that blog that I was not able to identify in a timely manner. I now know that the bird is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. These birds breed in North America during this time of year and fly to South America during the non-breeding winter season. They are shy birds that apparently stay hidden most of the time. I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to see it! Incidents like this give our outdoor activities that extra zing!

I went for a bike ride last Friday, starting out from Rileys Lock, and heading north. I had not been on the trail too long before I came upon a lady who was stopped on the trail. She stopped me and told me that there was a snake on the trail. A somewhat smaller-sized northern copperhead lay in the middle the trail enjoying the cool of the early morning. In case one is not aware of it, these snakes are venomous and can be deadly.

The young lady wanted to proceed north with her travels, but was very nervous about the reaction the snake might have to her attempt to get by. The two of us stood for a while strategizing about how to get around the snake. I was thinking of riding past it on the bike. While we were standing around, a bald eagle landed on a tree nearby. I could not get a very good picture of the bird.I wonder if the eagle was attracted by the activity on the trail.

I eventually rode past the snake, right in front of it. It might have turned its head to keep an eye on me as I rode by, but I was not too sure. My focus was on my safety! I stopped after had I passed the snake to take a picture of the bald eagle that was still hanging around, but the bird took off before I was ready with the camera. The young woman finally decided that she was not going to risk moving past the snake.She turned to head back towards Rileys Lock.

Having seen one snake this early in the morning, I was prepared to see more of them as the ride progressed. And it happened! The reptile sightings actually took place only towards the end of the ride – on two occasions.

The first time was when a long and thin black rat snake crossed the trail.It was moving fast enough that I my attempt to frame a picture capturing the entire length of the snake in the picture was unsuccessful.

The second time was toward the end of the ride. I saw a big and fat black rat snake beside the trail. I think the snake was getting ready to cross the trail. It turned and quickly slithered back into the grass when I stopped to take the picture.

It was towards the end of the ride, a little bit after I stopped for the second black rat snake, that I realized that my lens cap had fallen off the camera somewhere along the way, probably after I had taken the picture of this last snake. Something like this was bound to happen some day because the Olympus lens caps are, in general, designed very poorly from the point of view of staying attached to the front of the lens. You have to make an extra effort to make sure they are locked into place after you put them back over the lens. They might seem to be securely attached even when they are not. There have been several occasions in this past where the lens caps on my lenses have fallen off, but I had always been fortunate thus far to have been able to find the piece that dropped off. Not this time! I returned home “capless” in spite of my effort to find the lens cap by riding back along the trail – back to the place where I thought I had taken the last picture.

Luckily, it is not too difficult to get a replacement lens cap.

I want to finish the blog with this picture of a swallow taken at Whites Ferry. This was one of many on a wire. I cannot figure out what kind of a swallow this is.

I will post more of these pictures on Pbase eventually.

The Summer Slip Sliding Away

Days, weeks, and months go by in the time of COVID-19. We have our daily routines, including work and volunteering, and the occasional trip to the grocery store. We have to be careful with all of this. There have been no summer trips, no official vacations so far this summer, a big change from our usual annual routines.

It has been cool the last few days. There has been no need to use the air-conditioner. We have kept the windows open – to listen to the birds outside, and watch the deer relax in our backyard.

I have been sitting on the deck the last few evenings. I ask myself why I did not start doing this earlier, in all the years we have lived in this house. The plants, growing in pots on the deck, are yielding produce these days. They are a nice sight to see. These are grape tomatoes.These are bell peppers.The trees that I planted as saplings in the backyard many years ago have survived the deer, and have grown to tower over the backyard, and also provide shade on the deck in the late evenings. One evening, as I sat on the deck, my entertainment was provided by a flock of bluejays on the branches of the cherry tree, with a chickadeeand what appeared to be a juvenile tufted titmouse (I could be wrong)making their appearance once in a while. The bluejays were creating a cacophony as they called out to each other across the backyard.

There were no birds on the trees the next evening. I waited and waited with my camera! I think I might go out to the deck today too, maybe with a beverage in hand in addition to the camera!

The “books” that were on hold for me at the county library finally became available after a couple of weeks of waiting. This is the year I discovered digital books. I read books on my smartphone these days because of necessity. The physical libraries had been closed for a while. Reading a book on the smartphone takes getting used to. Reading actually feels a little different from when reading a physical book. I am still figuring out how to bookmark pages reliably on the different digital readers, or even flipping between pages in a flexible way when I want to refer to something that I read earlier on in the book. I still tend to lose my place in a “book”.

I have been watching a lot of episodes of American Experience recently. It is actually a little depressing to see the various ways in which discrimination and injustice have taken place, and continue to take place, in American society. Many of us are not aware of some of these unsavory sides of the history of the country. We live in the little bubbles that we find ourselves in today and are happy to stay there. Here in the US, the people in power (typically the white man) find it hard give up some of that power. There is the sense of superiority. People in power find it hard to treat people fairly. Systems are rigged against the weak, sometimes even when that reality is recognized. Many times the system can be cruel. This is truer than ever today. But the struggle continues. Politics is in the news with the upcoming elections. The choice is very clear this time.

Thanks to my friend Joe, I have been doing a lot of math puzzles these days. I really enjoy them. This is the last one we tackled.Perhaps you will also find it interesting!

I cannot seem to keep up a good routine when it comes to exercising regularly. Rainy days and laziness mess up the attempts to create a rhythm. And it is so difficult to get back to something that you have even been away from, even for a few weeks. Each time I start running after a break, I have to take it easy with the pace, and wait for my body to adjust. It takes at least a couple of runs. Nothing is routine in that sense. Morning walks still continue. Sunrises begin later and later as summer progresses, and there is now the chill in the morning air. Feels nice.

Here is the song that inspired the title of this blog. One of the things I still regret not having done when I was young was going for this concert in New York City. I was a graduate student at Stonybrook, not too far away, when it happened.

Agkistrodon Contortrix Mokasen

It happened last week as I was biking back from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail.  I had just crossed the trestle bridge over the C&O canal as I descended towards the level of the towpath.

I passed something colorful on the trail.  It was long and had some patterns on it.  I was pretty sure it was a snake.  I got off the bike and pulled out my camera, making sure I had the zoom lens on it.  I confirmed that it was indeed a snake, and it was one that I was seeing for the first time.  That was exciting! The snake was a few feet long, and somewhat “fat” in the middle. It had colorful patterns across its back.  It looked like it had started crossing the trail, but now it lay still as I got closer, clicking away on the camera.  There was nobody else around as I took my pictures.  The reptile did not move.

I managed to get all the pictures I wanted. As I was getting ready to leave, a bicyclist approached, charging down the path towards the location of the snake.  I called out that there was a snake in front of him.  He ignored me completely.  He barely acknowledged me the second time I called out – as he sped past, not even bothering to look at what I was pointing to.  He was focused on a rider who was biking in the opposite direction since my bike was partially blocking the trail further downhill.  He did not really care about the snake.  I think he avoided it just because he was trying to avoid me. The biker going the other way also went by without spotting the snake.  Something that had grabbed my interest was of no significance to them.  We were traveling along the trail with completely different mindsets!

This is what I had spotted.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(The picture above has been cropped.  I did not dare get too close to the snake!)

Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince this was a snake I was unfamiliar with,  I was eager to upload the pictures to my computer when I got home to take a look at them on a bigger screen.  Some research followed on the Internet. It was leading me to a conclusion (somewhat exciting to me!) that I had seen a somewhat unique reptile.  But I needed confirmation for my finding.  That confirmation came in the form of an e-mail a few days later, including the following information.Identification of snake(The links in the image above are this and this.)

I had indeed had a close encounter with a Northern Copperhead snake, one of only two venomous snakes present in Maryland. (The other one is called a Timber Rattlesnake.)

As with a lot of people, for some reason or another, I do have an inbuilt fear of snakes.  I would like to believe that over the years this fear has become somewhat more rational.  The fear still does exist, but my reaction is not of instant panic.  I try to keep a healthy distance from a snake.  In this case, my caution was justified!

In any case, after events like the one above, one becomes more alert in the woods than usual.  It does not help when there are signs that say that venomous snakes have been seen recently, which was the case when we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain last weekend.  We did not see any snakes during that hike.

 

The Morning of the Black Rat Snakes

I have been seeing black rat snakes more regularly on the C&O canal towpath ever since I started bicycling there – which is only more recently.  I think I see more snakes when biking just because I cover a lot more distance on the trail than when on foot.  The black rat snake is actually a very common denizen of the woods in these parts.  They are easily recognizable from the color and the white patch underneath.  They can grow quite long.  They are supposed to be quite harmless but I have not tried to find out if this is true!  They get their name because they eat rats and other small creatures.

I had seen only one black rat snake on the trail this year until yesterday, which is somewhat unusual for a biking season.  But that changed yesterday.  There was something about the morning that seemed to bring them out into the open in larger numbers.

I am usually on the lookout for anything black that lies across the trail when I ride.  Many are the times that I have been fooled into thinking that a fallen branch from a tree lying across the trail looked like a snake!  And when you are on a bicycle, the distance between you and the “snake” tends to vanish very quickly. You do not want to ride over the snake.

But I did see a real snake a few miles into the ride yesterday.  At first I could not make out which direction is was headed in.  A closer look revealed that it was beginning to cross the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I think I disturbed it enough that it might have changed its mind about crossing the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not have time to take a picture the second time I ran across a snake.  There were two old ladies approaching from the other direction on their bikes, and the black snake was in the middle of the trail.  I stopped and noted that there was a snake in front of them.  They had not noticed it, and they did not understand me the first time I pointed out the snake.  Luckily, they grasped what I was saying in time to avoid riding over the reptile.  I think it was sufficiently disturbed by the traffic all around it.   “You scared the darned thing”, I said to the women as they rode off behind me.  Not very polite…  (In any case, I crossed paths with the women once again on my way back and we exchanged pleasantries.  No issues…)

As if these encounters were not enough, I saw yet another black rat snake by the side of the trail further along in the ride!  This time I stopped for pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn all cases yesterday, the snakes actually stayed quite still while I approached them on the bike, and while I was scrambling around with my camera.  This was in contrast with what happened the one time I saw one of these snakes earlier this year, when it was making haste across the trail to slither away into the grass.

I did not not see any more snakes on the way back from Whites Ferry, which was my destination for the morning.

This is also the week that I am trying to jump start my running routine once again in order to get my regular exercise.  This is the first time after the Pittsburgh to Cumberland bike ride.  The once-a-week bike rides that I have been up to recently have not been doing too much for me.  I either need to bike more or add something different into the mix.

I am learning a few more things about the body in the quest to adapt my exercise routines.  The last time I shifted from biking to running (after my bike ride in 2016), I felt so much discomfort that I thought I was having an episode similar to the ones I had had in 2008 that led to the discovery of CAD.  This year, for the first time, I had a wristwatch that kept a track of the heartbeat while running.  It turned out that my heartbeat went up quite significantly the moment I started jogging, and it went up to a rate much higher than what it is when I am biking.  Pushing the muscles in any part of the body, even the heart, out of its usual comfort zone for the first time in a while is bound to create a reaction of some kind.  Best not to overdo it.  I expect that this discomfort will go away if I stick to the running routine.  In fact, I did not feel it once I had warmed up.  I also found myself quite rusty with regards to the running routine itself, tripping over the roots of trees that lie across the trail in the woods much more frequently than I am used to doing.  It is easy to lose touch with things.

 

A Spider’s Tale

It was the middle of December.  I was brushing my teeth, staring at myself in the mirror in the bathroom. It was then that I noticed the spider on the wall behind me. It was next to a picture that was hanging on the wall. It did not seem to be moving.  I noticed the spider in the same location the next day.  I nudged it gently to make sure it was alive.  It was. Over the next few days the spider moved to different locations on the wall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spider dropped out of sight shortly after that.  We then went on our Christmas vacation in Florida towards the end of December.   Shortly after we returned, a few days into the new year, I noticed a spider again.  This time it was while I was taking a bath. I was quite certain that it was the same spider I had seen previously.  It was inside a plastic protrusion in the soap-holder fixture that was attached to the wall of the shower stall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was very little space for the spider to move in the piece of plastic. Once again I made sure it was alive – this time by tapping on the plastic.

I noticed the spider in the same location over the next few days.  It became obvious to me that it was trapped.  My feeling about the predicament of the spider created the perfect excuse for me to move into action. Perhaps I could free it while also replacing the soap-holder, something I had been thinking of doing for a while.  I installed a new fixture on the wallOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand pulled out the old one, releasing the spider (still alive!) from where it was stuck.  I could not figure out how it had gotten into the little space.

I released the spider on to the wall on which I had first seen it. It disappeared into a little space behind the door of the bathroom.  After that, I did not see it for a few days.  And then it reappeared on the bathroom counter. It was still alive!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few questions arose in my mind.

Where had the spider come from?  What kind of a spider was this, and how long could it live?  (I subsequently read that it was most likely a common house spider, a harmless creature that is capable of living a long time, even up to a year.)  What do spiders like this live on?  Also, are they able to live with minimum food intake?  Certainly, when it was trapped in the shower fixture, the spider had no access to food.  And the only open food in the bathroom was probably soap!  Curious!  I also read that if indeed it was a common house spider, if I had moved it outside the house (my first instinct!), it would most likely not have survived.

I have not seen the spider for a while since then.  I do not know what happened to it.  It could be dead for all I know, and I would not really feel bad about that.  Did I make any kind of difference in the life of the spider.  Hard to imagine.  Did I make any difference regarding life as a universal experience? Do we really care what happens to spiders? Was there any moral issue involved in what I did? This whole exercise, including my writing of this blog, could seem rather pointless to some.  But in the grand scheme of things,  there are a lot of things that we do, some things closer to home, even some things that are seemingly more consequential, that are ultimately pointless. But still we do these things, sometimes for our own reasons, sometimes for reasons that we may not even be able to explain properly to ourselves.  It may be one of the things that makes us human.