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!
Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.Since 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.(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.