I am so going to have nightmares tonight after spending half an hour trying to find a picture of a snake that looks like the one several of us encountered at Dog Park Sunday night. It looked a good bit like this one.
The snakes in the pictures are pretty close. They are Texas rat snakes (formal name: elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri), and, frankly, the one I saw was not quite obsolete enough for me. To be fair, it was simply minding its own business, stretched across the trail at the bottom of the center path, not far from the creek. And it did a far better job of playing it cool while everyone else lost their minds. Four humans and six dogs hopped around and yelped (well, only the humans yelped) for the better part of a minute. Most of the dogs didn't even see the snake until it darted into a nearby clump of trees. Only Frankie ran after it.
The snake was about four feet long. Its skin was a light beige with a darker and beautiful diamond pattern on its back that faded to a blur when the snake scooted away. It also had a head so tiny and pointy that I got the ends mixed up. I thought for a full second that it was moving backwards away from us. It was quite chubby in the middle, which means it is finding plenty to eat in the underbrush.
Here are the facts that I found at this site, which is "assembled and edited" by Jerry Cates, who also took the pictures, I believe.
Rat snakes are not poisonous, but they do not like to be messed with and will bite, according to Mr. Cates. They mostly eat mice and rats, but will occasionally dine on small birds. They hunt at dawn and dusk. We saw our narrow friend around 8:45 p.m.
In honor of our new Dog Park neighbor, here's Emily Dickinson's poem "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass." The last few lines capture perfectly how I felt after our encounter.
A narrow Fellow in the Grass
You may have met Him—did you not
His notice sudden is
The Grass divides as with a Comb—
A spotted shaft is seen—
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on—
He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn—
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot—
I more than once at Noon
Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone—
Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me—
I feel for them a transport
But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone—
Courtesy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson (Little Brown & Company, 1960), p. 459.
Watch your step! -z