The Snakiest of Springs.

****TRIGGER WARNING****
This post contains pictures of actual snakes. And of me holding one of those actual snakes. If you have a fear of snake photos, this post isn’t for you. Here’s a beautiful Luna Moth for you to look at and then just go ahead and click off of this page.

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It’s really bizarre that it’s still considered Spring – or bizarre in Alabama, at least. But it is. Despite the 90 degree temperatures and the daily risk of dehydration, I keep reminding my whining children, “OH YOU JUST WAIT. You’ve forgotten what Summer even feels like.”

Because I’m an encouraging, uplifting, understanding mom like that.

But. This Spring has been a delight for a wildlife-energized person like myself (what kind of vert are you if you’re energized by reptiles and amphibians? Maybe I’m not an introvert after all – I’m a reptivert.) Because, at least in Birmingham, the snake population has exploded.

(This may not sound like good news to the rest of you. But I promise. It is. Snakes are our friends. Well, most of them. And even the ones that aren’t our friends aren’t nearly as scary as you think.)

(And I’m SO energized. So that’s a plus.)

We’ve seen plenty of lizards and toads and turtles as well,

IMG_1521 s Eastern Fence Lizard – look at his fabulous glowing blue belly.

180531 Peavine After Tropical Storm IMG_9555 s 2We found another one that had more of a teal belly.

IMG_1522 s Eye of Toad fascinates me.

180410 MOSS ROCK PRESERVEIMG_0611 s This was a tiny baby snapping turtle. Not so scary when they’re miniature. But still just as prehistoric.

But the Snakes, They have been especially remarkable. I have literally seen more snakes in the wild this year than I have seen in my entire life – and that is not an exaggeration. Whatever happened this winter, it was perfect conditions for Snake Babymakin’. I have even lost count of how many we’ve seen – which has never happened in the history of ever.

It all started with a friendly King Snake that we found when it was still cold enough for me to easily catch and hold him (yes. I do hold snakes in the wild. Usually after I confirm that they’re not venomous.)

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Isn’t he adorable?

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He let all the kids pet him and was happy to be our friend, and even stuck around for a minute after I put him down, then slithered off to do whatever it is he does when we’re not around to entertain him.

After we saw him, snakes began showing up everywhere. In years prior, I’ve mocked people who stay out of the woods for fear of snakes – I would tell them “We hike all the time, I actively look for snakes, and I can never find any! The chances of you seeing one are nearly zero.” We would see snakes on maybe one out of every 50-75 hikes. But this year, they’ve been increasing to the point where we’ve recently seen a snake on almost every hike, and earlier this week I saw a snake a day for three days in a row.

180605 Cahaba River NWR Trail Piper Interpretive Trail IMG_8624 s 2I climbed a small hill to get a better look at this guy, who I thought was another friendly King Snake. Turns out he was a Black Racer (also not venomous), which he proved by shooting down the hill at a spectacular speed headed straight for the rest of my hiking party, then made a sharp right turn and raced down the trail and back up the hill far away from me. I don’t know if my sister-in-law has forgiven me for the increase in heart rate that she may still be suffering from, but to experience how fantastically fast a rather large Black Racer can move was totally worth her unending ire.

Our tally of snakes has included King Snakes, Black Racers, Rat Snakes, Garter Snakes and two baby Timber Rattlesnakes – both of which Noah spotted.

I told you about his first rattlesnake find in this post – where Noah saw it while we were taking a group photo (and apparently the snake did not want to be a part of our selfie.)

180430 Hikers for 11.2 mile hikeIMG_6628Us, with Noah pointing at a snake…

180430 Oak Mountain 11.2 miles IMG_1433The snake, right in front of the group but oh-so-hard to spot – for everyone except Noah.

I misidentified it as a Copperhead, knowing that it was venomous but not recognizing the rattlesnakiness of it. But I had my favorite Twitter Biologist, @AlongsideWild, identify it for us.

Then, just a few days ago at my parent’s house, Noah, Ali, and their cousin Tessa went for a walk. My parents have a few acres of woods with trails on it, and my Dad had told them that they could go for a walk if they stayed on the trails (which they know very well) and came when he whistled for them.

A little while later, Dad whistled, we heard Noah yell “We’re comin’!!” and a few minutes later they showed up as promised.

Which is when they told us that during their hike, Noah had spotted a snake.

He had calmly stated, “Snake.”

The girls couldn’t see it, so he carefully pointed it out and said “It’s a baby Timber Rattlesnake.”

They all quietly walked away in the other direction and continued on with their hike until Dad whistled them back.

I asked Noah to take me back to the snake, partially because I love observing snakes and partially because I was very curious as to his identification accuracy. As we walked, he told me about the characteristics of the snake – “It had stripes like the other Timber Rattlesnake we saw, and a triangular head. But I don’t know many snakes, so it could have been a different kind.”

Considering that I rarely correctly identify snakes on the first try, I was skeptical.

When we arrived, the little baby was in the same place, and I snapped a few pictures of him while Noah tugged on the back of my shirt and asked if I could please get further away.

I felt like Noah’s identification might have been right.

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I sent the picture to @AlongsideWild, and he confirmed: Noah had been right. It was yet another baby Timber Rattlesnake.

I had never been prouder of Noah. For his eye to spot it, his calmness in making the girls aware of it and then redirecting their hike, and for his accuracy in identification. He might not have the same love and excitement for the snakes as I do (which, hey, is probably a good thing since he’s a seven-year-old boy), but he’s proven himself as the better amateur herpetologist.

And of course I was fascinated by the snake itself. Although the pattern was the same, his markings and colors were so much bolder and a different color palette than the last Timber Rattlesnake we saw – it was as if they were each wearing a different shade of camo. The brown one was much creepier because of how well he blended.

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But despite their color differences, Noah recognized their like characteristics and knew they were the same kind of snake.

So. If you’re not so sure about the woods and need a guide that can keep you safe, Noah is your guy.


Editor’s Note: If you think I’m being rather nonchalant about a dangerous animal, snakes don’t want to hurt us – they have better things to do. And remember – I live in Alabama. Everything here can kill you, from the plants to the animals to the weather. If you need a refresher course, read this post. But it’s still totally worth it to live in this beautiful state.

The Perfect Puddle Fail.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with puddles lately. Which is convenient, since we just had a Tropical Storm come all the way up the middle of our state.

(Granted it wasn’t a Tropical Storm when it reached me, but it was still pretty dang wet.)

I don’t usually get hung up on getting a specific shot, but in my head I’ve had this “perfect” puddle jump for months that I just needed to capture.

The original idea was to be directly above a child who was jumping down into a puddle while looking at the puddle, and get the top of their head and body going down, but their happy face in the reflection of the water.

(I don’t know if that makes any sense but it’s BEAUTIFUL in my head.)

However, this particular shot, I have discovered through scientific analysis, is impossible in a Physics sort of way.

It turns out that puddle reflections are super tricky – sometimes they’re in color, sometimes they’re in black and white, and if you’re directly over the puddle shooting down, they’re not there at all.

I spent parts of three days trying to get this specific shot, with much help from my kids (especially Ali, as Noah prefers contrariness.) But I haven’t been happy with the results.

I even named this entire night of photos “Failed Puddle Jump.”

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I mean they were cool, but they weren’t what I wanted.

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I was puzzled by myself, because I’m really not usually this particular and specific with my photography. But there was just SOMETHING missing. Something I had to capture. And these weren’t it.

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So I tried again Tuesday at The Botanical Gardens. Ali was all in, so we shot several rounds of jumps while Noah whined and loitered in the background.

I was fairly happy with the results – Ali looked completely dreamy in a few – but they still weren’t *quite* there.

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Tuesday night, Chris took us all on a surprise End Of School Year Celebration Night. We ate dinner at a new restaurant, then he took us to Target and gave us each gift certificates to blow on whatever we wanted, then we went up to a downtown parking deck for me to get to shoot the sunset. I was informed that this was the third of four stops, the fourth one being another mystery stop.

While we waited on sunset, I noticed that there was a perfect puddle. And Noah was in an especially amenable mood. So we worked on getting my unattainable shot.

We tried it from one angle.

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Oh yes. The reflections were in color (aided perhaps by the fact that he was wearing the outfit in which I’ve nicknamed him “Dayglow.”)

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Then another angle, and it was even better.

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We were SO CLOSE.

After circling the puddle and studying it with all of my analytical geometry skills intensely tuned in, I finally decided on the perfect angle/lens combination to shoot with the fullest city backdrop.

I realigned Noah and humbly requested his ongoing participation…

“Just one more time! And by one more time I mean as many times as it takes to get it right.”

Shockingly, he was all in. “Okay, but let me take off my shoes real quick. They’re getting super wet.”

No problem.

So he backed up.

We rechecked the angles.

I gave him leap coaching (“one leg out – not a hop – a leap”), and we lined up the shot.

He took off.

I snapped.

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Yes! Yes! It’s going to be PERFECT!!

…But then his lack of shoes suddenly and quite violently caught up with him.

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He slid straight through that Public Parking Lot Puddle, coating his butt with the layers of slime from decades of tires and shoes and bubble gum and spit and who knows what other unspeakable bodily and non-bodily fluids.

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He came out the other side looking like a bog had attacked his backside, and also crying and holding his shoulder.

I feverishly rooted around in the back of the car to find a towel, but only found a blanket – good enough. I wrapped him up and checked on the rotationary abilities of his arm – it still functioned, and he had calmed down.

Then I checked my camera.

And WE GOT THE DANG SHOT.

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And we all lived happily ever after.

(Except his shorts.)

(And possibly his puddle jumping career.)

(And also there is the issue of my Mommy Guilt.)

(But Mommy Guilt never goes away so you might as well get the shot if you’re going to suffer from it anyway.)

The End.

p.s. – My apologies to the Ice Cream Shop that was our fourth stop. I do hope we didn’t leave any Parking Lot Bog behind in your cozy booth.

The Varied Impressions of California, as seen by Alabamians.

A couple of weeks ago, Chris and I went on our seventeenth anniversary trip to Newport Beach, California.

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It was a completely random destination, chosen not by desire but by necessity, as we had reservations in St. Thomas, then St. Thomas went and got hit by two hurricanes. They cancelled our reservation and gave us a limited array of choices in which we could rebook. Which was fine, because we love choosing odd places to travel.

We chose Newport Beach because we went to San Diego a few years back and loved it (aside from me breaking my nose while sleepwalking, as one does, but that wasn’t exactly San Diego’s fault), and I’m always up for an excuse to visit California. Plus, there seemed to be some state parks nearby, and we are a bit on the active side these days when we vacate together.

We had no idea, however, that Newport Beach was the epicenter of south-of-LA wealth and snobbery.

I kept the Realtor app open as we drove around, just to gawk at the house prices, that ranged, on the beach, between 10 and 51 million.

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And the cars. The clunkers in Newport Beach are Range Rovers. The okay cars are Teslas. But really, life is only good if you’re driving a Lamborghini or Ferrari. My favorite was to take pictures of the orange “you’re going to get towed” warning stickers on the sides of these cars. Did they care? Nah. They probably had 10 others at home.

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I learned the ridiculous array of performance SUVs that are now available – besides Porsche, you can get your SUV in Maserati or Alfa Romeo. Because there’s no better way to waste performance engines than having extra cargo space and a bunch of kids spilling their sticky fruit snacks in the backseat.

While the cars were fascinating, the people were perplexing. I caught multiple people staring – staring at me. In a judgmental glare. And when I caught them, they didn’t blink. They just kept stare-glaring. I spent the week trying to figure out what exactly it was about me that singled me out as DEFINITELY not fitting in.

Was it my purple hair? In Cali, I’m pretty sure purple hair is so 2004. In fact, did anyone in the entire town have hair a shade darker than white-blond?

Or was it my clothes? Could they tell that I definitely had never stepped foot into their minimum-$1,000-for-a-camisole boutiques?

Or is this what people mean when they gush about how southerners are just so nice to strangers? We don’t stare-glare?

I finally landed on hips. They had clearly eradicated hips in California many years ago (we realized there’s a such thing as skinny, and then there’s California skinny), and they were so shocked that I would still have such ancient things on my body that I might as well have been infected with a mix of Polio, Bubonic Plague, and Leprosy. And they were desperately hoping my hips weren’t contagious.

But let’s back up to our flight.

I love flying. It’s fun, adventurous, you get to see things from a new angle, and it’s a perfectly fine excuse to sit and read with zero guilt.

When the plane we’d be leaving Birmingham in landed from its previous flight, a Stewardess hurried off the plane first. As she walked out of the tunnel, she exhaled and said to the employee at the desk, “Praise the LORD we’re on the ground!!!”

This *seemed* like a bad sign to me. Was our plane a bit of a junker? Did they have an engine blow? What exactly made that flight worse than her other many every day flights?

When we got on the plane, it became apparent when I walked by row 16.

The smell of vomit was nearly visible.

Thank goodness the overwhelming aroma faded before row 18 where we were slotted to sit. But ohmygoodness – it was a full plane, and somebody had to sit on The Dread Row 16. They deserved a full refund and a year of free flight vouchers. I sat there, wondering what exactly had prompted what must have been a raging waterfall of puke two rows ahead of me. Was there turbulence, or did someone have Ebola? What was floating around at the microscopic level in the recycled air I was ushering into my body?

Our second flight, though less vomity in smell, definitely ramped up my paranoia. My stomach began aching. Hurting all over. Badly enough that by the time we landed, I felt like the only way to feel better was the hold my stomach together with my arms. It was not a familiar ache, and not one I could readily tell how to eradicate. Chris and I stopped at the grocery store and I began scanning the small medicinal aisle, looking for anything that might help a mysterious plane-plague stomach ache. I landed on Gas-X. Maybe I had expanded like a potato chip bag.

Sure enough, five minutes after inhaling those chewable tablets, I felt human again and my fears of Death-By-Plane began to abate. I googled this to see if it was normal, and I learned my second valuable medical fact of the week (the first had been the phenomenon of Asparagus Pee – did you know about Asparagus Pee? The science of who can and cannot smell and/or produce asparagus pee is well worth the NPR story.)

(I learned about this fact in my first ever highly specific and exactly correct answer to googling a medical problem. “Why does my pee smell absolutely horrible?” and Google suggested I might have eaten asparagus. And behold, I had just eaten asparagus for the first time in years!)

(Google is smarter than she used to be. Pretty sure five years ago she would have just told me I was dying of Malaria and left it at that.)

Back to plane gas, which was the second medical fact I learned – the gas in human’s stomachs does indeed expand like potato chip bags when in the air. It’s quite a normal problem and I was just the lucky one who had this problem but wasn’t forced by my body to embarrassingly relieve the pressure while on the plane (which is also, apparently, common.) Blinding stomach pain is preferred any day.

After I recovered from The Grand Expansion of Gases, the trip was just lovely (aside from all the stare-glares that seared their way into my fragile self-consciousness. But you Californians can’t help your rude ways. You just need to move to Alabama and learn some manners.)

Chris and I walked for five hours the first day, biked 20 miles the second day, ran and hiked the third day, and ran and hiked the fourth day. And oh yeah – got one more run in the fifth day before our plane left.

We tend to really relax on vacation these days.

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(We would have done more relaxing if it hadn’t been so dang cold, but you gotta keep moving over there. Unless you’re in a hot tub.)

(Which we did get in once. And we sat at the pool gazebos and watched the native bunnies eat the grass. And I read two books.)

The vistas of California were so breathtaking and vast that it was almost too much to take in.

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It was as if we were inside a postcard and couldn’t quite comprehend the depth and largeness of the canyons below us, the mountains above us, and the gorgeous sea.

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The mountains directly above the coastline were so steep that we’d count the number of times our ears popped while driving up them (seven times was the record.)

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The sea life in the tide pools along the coast had gorgeous, colorful anemones and very busy crabs.

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Every square inch of not-building-space had flowers. Beautiful, unique, overflowing flowers that smelled divine. Wild flowers, cultivated flowers, every kind of flowers.

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And then, Chris found me a Pirate’s Tower at which to take sunset pictures. Because he’s the best and that’s why I’ve been married to him for seventeen years.

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We had to park at the top of a hill, walk down a steep road, a few hundred steps, skirt across some giant rocks while the waves crashed into us, and withstand the tide coming in with giant waves up to our knees while taking the pictures.

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I had 20 pounds of sand in my shoes and have had to wash them twice to eradicate the smell of putrid fermented Pacific Ocean, but it was totally worth it.

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There were also ocean-flowing caves,

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Arches,

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And creepy rabbit holes on offshoots of offshoots of offshoots of trails.

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(Which turned out to contain a real live human “den” made out of sticks and twigs and graffiti and crepe paper, which can only lead us to believe it was a opium den, since opium is the only drug that requires a den.)

(Crack requires a house. Meth requires a lab. Pot doesn’t require anything. But opium needs a creepy-rabbit-hole-in-the-middle-of-California-wilderness DEN.)

Speaking of California Oddities, we found this upper-crust society (to which we’re considering shipping Thomas The Cat),

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This ice cream shop that my kids would never be allowed to eat at,

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A Dad I never want to meet,

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And “steaks” that would never be allowed to go by that name in Alabama.

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California was a lovely dream.

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A dream I wasn’t at all ready to leave behind.

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But at least I didn’t have Plane Gas on the way home.