However, Mother Nature loves a joke as well as any of us - as you shall see.
Part One of my walking today was within my beloved Moreau Park, to check on a hognose snake who has been frequenting the same 20 feet of a well-travelled trail. I’d seen him 3 weeks in a row, in roughly the same spot - a narrow foot-trail, near water, where the midday sun creates a nice warm basking-place among a bed of russet oak leaves. His coloration is so effective as camouflage that if you weren’t really looking for him, you might walk right past him. Come to think of it, how many times did I myself stride along that same trail, within a few feet of this scaly creature?
The first time I saw him, I did one of those automatic jump-backs. Then curiosity took over. I got as close as I dared (after taking some photos using that oh so useful zoom lens!) and spoke to him. Well that got him going, he started to hiss and his neck flared out, in eerie resemblance to a cobra.
They have other tricks to fool other creatures into thinking they are something fearsome, including, as a last resort, flopping over and playing dead. I had seen a hognose do that, years ago, in Virginia. So I didn’t need to harass the wildlife.
Frankly I wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t try striking out (how far could he reach?) before it got to playing-dead time, and there I was, wearing shorts. So I backed away, and took another path to get to where I was originally headed.
A week later – there he was again, 10 feet from the first spot. It was enough just to know he was hanging around in one place.
The third time, another week later, it had been rainy for a stretch of days, but now the morning was bright and sunny. As I came up to that place, you could see a full foot of his tail sticking out into the pathway! This time (yes wearing shorts again) I even didn’t try walking by him, but watched him awhile, then headed back the way I had come.
This was getting to be a regular thing! I can’t imagine how many people – kids and dogs included – must have walked by this snake on a crowded Sunday afternoon.
So on this past Sunday, it being Summer Solstice AND Naked Hiking Day, I once again went into that section of the park, ostensibly to check on a particular tree nearby. Might as well stop and see if I can see Mr. Hognose again.
The trail was even narrower, with the growth of ferns and other plants along the sides being especially vigorous now. And in my shorts my legs felt pretty vulnerable. Treading cautiously, I came near the spot, a small slope covered with fallen oak leaves. Hmm, no sign of him. I edged a little further. Nope.
Then another ten feet – waah! There was that tail, hanging out on the trail!
But wait, he didn’t look so good. The tail was sort of – flat.
In fact, I could see at least 12 inches worth of flatness. Eh?
Brushing aside a fern, what I saw was a snake SKIN, and from the look of it, it was shed recently.
He must have been off celebrating Naked Hiking Day.