When The Intersection Rule Failed Us.

In our hiking club, we really only have one rule. (Aside from the obvious rules like don’t pick up snakes but CERTAINLY don’t scare them away because Miss Rachel will definitely want to see them and photograph them and maybe pick them up if she’s mostly sure they’re not venomous.)

The one rule is this: Stop at every intersection.

This rule is a rule because it is a regular occurrence for the kids (especially the older ones but sometimes the younger ones) to run ahead of the adults, who can sometimes be dragging a toddler behind them or on their back or hanging off their legs like a monkey.

On the particular hike for which this post was recorded, I was taking on the responsibility (and fun) of being hiking buddies with Elsa, my favorite first cousin once removed. (Please don’t tell my other first cousins once removed. This is between us.)

…As an aside, I googled and now understand very well what the difference is between a second cousin, first cousin once removed, third cousin, and second cousin once removed. Would you like me to explain it?

(I know you would. It’s fascinating and makes so much sense.)

It all depends on what level you’re on with reference to each other. The same level means that you share a grandparent, great grandparent, etc. A level apart means that my grandmother is your great grandmother. Following so far? So, first, second, and third cousins are all on the same level. First cousins share a grandparent. Second cousins share a great-grandparent. Third cousins share a great-great grandparent.

(Fun Fact: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are third cousins: their shared great-great-grandmother is Queen Victoria, who incidentally was married to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Because the British are weirder than Alabamians.)

Removed cousins are on different levels. First cousins once removed happen when person A’s grandparent is person B’s great-grandparent. So another way to look at it is you are first cousins once removed with your cousin’s children. You’d be first cousins twice removed with your cousin’s grandchildren. Got it?

…So back to Elsa, who is my favorite of all of my cousin’s children.

Elsa is four, and she’s just starting to grasp hiking expectations, rules, and standards. So she asked me, “Aunt Rachel, (because “First Cousin Once Removed Rachel” is pretty long for a four year old), what is an insterstection?”

I explained carefully that an intersection is anytime you can go more than one way on a trail. If you have to choose directions, it’s an intersection. And it’s very, very important that you always wait at every intersection for the adults, because if you chose the wrong way, and we assumed you chose the right way, you’d be lost, and it would be hard to find you.

She silently pondered my words, an unspoken gravity resting between us of what it would be like to be four and lost in the woods.

We plodded ahead, perhaps a tenth of a mile behind the big kids. As we came up a hill, we saw the big kids all piled in a semi-circle at an intersection. It was a “T” intersection, with a bench sitting opposite of the T. A teenage couple was sitting on the bench, and it appeared that they were having a silent standoff with our kids.

Then the teenage couple stood up, walked toward us, laughing slightly, politely said hi to us, and took off down the trail.

As we reached the children, they were all coughing, waving hands in front of their faces, gagging, and complaining in general about what was the worst skunky smelling cigars they’d ever smelled.

Yeah. That is not a fog of cigar smoke you’re standing in, children.

Our Stop-At-The-Intersection rule had…

– Forced the children to stand in a thick cloud of pot smoke,

– Created an awkward staring/social interaction, because the poor high teenagers had no idea why 10 children had just crowded around them in a semicircle.

(They’re probably still puzzling about that. I bet every time they get high they’re all like “yo, man, remember that one time, when all those kids surrounded us like they were the freakin’ Marine Corps or something?” “Yeah man. That was….weird.”)

– Totally killed their buzz.

Were the children better tempered for the rest of the hike?

Chill, might one say?

Perhaps.

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So maybe The Intersection Rule didn’t fail us after all.

(Then again, twenty minutes later, Noah did get exceptionally hangry and demanding as to why I hadn’t brought SNACKS on the hike, so the dreaded munchies may not have been worth it.)

Two Sprinkles of Life.

I got a much needed haircut last Friday. It’s been at least a year since I got a trim and the ends of my mistreated hair felt like Rumplestiltskin’s Straw (before turning to gold). I had to find a new hairdresser because mine moved out of state, so that’s something I can put off for forever.

But I found one. And I went. And my hair felt so free and happy and light and bouncy and healthy and shiny and all the things.

Half an hour later, I was walking down the block when I heard a whistle.

I looked up, and there was a septic tank cleaning truck. It was painted up on the side with a joyful bee flying in circles, and it stated proudly that it was “The Honey Wagon.” As that’s how everyone wants to think of their poo – synonymous with honey. (Which is, in fact, bee barf. So I really don’t understand the connection at all.)

My eyes made their way up to the driver’s window, and I made eye contact with a completely legit Santa Claus, minus the red suit.

He had bright, long white hair (with no split ends I’m sure) and a white beard at a length and breadth that Dumbledore would be jealous. And as he waved and winked at me, acknowledging that the whistle had indeed come from him, I definitely saw a Santa-like twinkle in his eye.

(Gross, Santa.)

So clearly my haircut was successful.

And let’s all take a moment to be relieved that Santa has a job in the off-season. Even if it is still hauling everyone else’s crap all over town.


I have an entire category of my personal sleepwalking stories (most including injuries.) Thankfully I haven’t partaken in the hobby in quite some time (or at least not violently – sometimes I’ll wake up in other rooms, but I haven’t thrown myself at a slice n’ dice dresser handle, or run into a wall, or dived off a bed in a seriously long while.)

Unfortunately, the disease of sleepwalking is genetic. And both my children were unlucky enough to receive that gene, rather than their father’s superior sleep gene that allows him to be the one in our marriage that falls asleep in two seconds and never rises in his sleep to ambulate from place to place.

(By the way, I have the theory that in every marriage, one spouse fall asleep in seconds, and one spouse has to lie there and rehash every conversation they had that day before they fall asleep, along with several rolls from their side to their stomach to their back to their other side. Is this true? Discuss.)

But sleepwalking.

It’s creepy enough to wake up where you’re not supposed to be, but there is nothing – NOTHING I tell you – creepier than a child sleepwalking in the middle of the night, their little zombie eyes staring three inches to the right of you with a dazed and blank look on their face. It’s as if they can see the ghosts having a soiree right next to you and you have no idea.

Friday night, I was enjoying a moment of quiet reading in my bedroom when I heard Noah’s door open. I looked at my watch – it was 10:24. Too late for sleepy gummies (We have a rule that if you’re still awake at 10pm, you can come get a Melatonin Gummy. Noah has been known to stay away staring at his clock to earn a sweet treat. So we had to get a bit more militant with the idea of “if you’re still awake.”)

I put down my book and silently waited to hear if he was headed to the bathroom.

No sound.

I got concerned, so I got out of bed and peeked into the hallway.

He was standing at the top of the stairs, in full-on zombie stare, his comforter wrapped around him and held by both hands around his neck like a cape, the bottom trailing the ground and wrapped around his feet in a very trip-and-fall-waiting-to-happen fashion.

Oh no. No no no.

I grabbed his shoulders just as he hovered his left foot over the stairs, as if he was going to walk down them but was sure they stretched out in the space in front of him and not in a downward fashion – a downward fashion that he was surely about to fall into.

I tried to disentangle his feet from his comforter and led him back to bed, all the while as he protested “But I’ve got to get (garble gobbledegook.) I need to get (you never can understand a whole sentence spoken from a sleepwalker.)” I begged him to stay in bed as he snuggled back in and resumed sleeping in the normal horizontal fashion.

Then I went back into my room to calm my nerves and curse my genes. And to take at least thirty minutes longer to fall asleep.

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.

180604 timber rattlesnake at gramamma's IMG_8584 s 2IMG_1434 2 s

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.