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.

Pokemon Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.

My exhaustion of hearing about the HP of every Pokemon ever created can be a heavy burden. And I grow weary of hearing the difference between GX and EX and Ultra and Mega and X. I languish from my child asking me for eBay searches and Amazon browsing for more and more and more Pokemon cards.

But oh.

The power one wields when a child of questionable temperament falls hopelessly and completely in obsession with something is indeed a very, very effective power.

It is worth every banal conversation. Every. Last. One. Of. Them.

Noah is not a people pleaser like his sister before him. So I must find new and creative ways to constantly encourage him in the way he should go. Some things work, some things don’t. But nothing – NOTHING – nothing in the creation of everything has worked as blazingly efficiently as Pokemon Cards.

The first use that made my eyes light up with the power I now held had to do with dirty plates.

Noah has never, not once, picked up his dirty lunch plate or snack napkin or gummy wrapper and put them away without being told to do so.

No matter how many times I tried to tell him he needed to do it without me telling him, or offering him tickets to help him remember, or threatening consequences if he didn’t remember – it literally did not matter. He would not, could not remember to pick up his trash.

But then one day I told him if you don’t pick up your trash, I will take away two Pokemon cards. And the next day he didn’t pick up his trash. And I don’t think he had even conceived of how cruel I could possibly be until that moment. When I told him to go get his Pokemon book and I thumbed through, looking specifically for the cards he talked about the most.

I took two of his most precious cards. His Jumbo Snorlax GX and his Mega Charizard.

He cried. And cried. And cried some more. There is no possible way that he will cry so many tears of grief when I die. He used all his tears on Snorey and Charz.

Since that day, at least a month ago, he has not left a single plate or piece of trash out after consuming food. Not one. He went from a .000 batting average to a 1.000. And, for the record, the consequences weren’t even permanent. I sprung Snorlax and Charizard from the slammer after a couple of days for good behavior, with the dire warning that next time, they would find a permanent home swimming with the fishies in the septic tank.

(Before we continue, I need to say something to Chris. No, dear, if you’re reading this, I would never *actually* flush Pokemon cards down the toilet. I know how you coddle our septic tank as if it were a colicky newborn baby. But I must add an appropriate amount of drama to my threats to be the loving, effective mother that you desire me to be.)

My second brilliantly evil use of Pokemon cards was to get my daily dose of exercise. I’d bought two junk boxes of random Pokemon cards off of Amazon a while back to use as prizes. I had so far used them as rewards in mental math contests between my children (turns out Noah is really good up in his head with math and can nearly compete with his four-year-older sister – when appropriately motivated), so I invented the most genius exercise game ever created for kids. WAY better than Nintendo Wii.

Pokemon Run.

For every quarter mile you run without stopping* or complaining, you earn one Pokemon card.

* Up to five second walk breaks were permissable for road crossings and side stitches and such.

For every continuous mile you run, you get two bonus Pokemon cards, bringing the potential total Pokemon cards up to six earnable per mile.

I explained the rules to the kids. Noah shivered with excitement. Ali, who also enjoys Pokemon cards but doesn’t need as much motivation as her brother, was also excited to get something for something she’d do anyway. And probably secretly relished the opportunity to earn more than her brother, but she’s a people pleaser. She’d never say so.

The run was every bit as magical as I’d hoped.

Noah is usually complaining just for his own personal entertainment at the .2 mile mark. But this run, there was no complaining. None at all. The kid even got a wretched side stitch and DID NOT WHINE. He was leaning over while running, cramming his hand into his side, BECAUSE HE NEEDED THAT LAST POKEMON CARD.

Ali earned 19 cards. Noah earned 12. And they were both thrilled and freaking thankful that I had taken them on such an amazing run. And begged to have another one soon.

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There is nothing like finding the currency that motivates a child. It’s as if I truly finally am in charge of my situation. I use Pokemon cards like they grow on trees now, and it’s worth every penny of all the money I send to Amazon.

So, mothers. So, fathers. I urge you. Find your currency.

Find it soon.

And treasure it with all your might.

A Journalled Year.

This delightful kid turned eleven yesterday.

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Ali recorded her year much better than I did, so I thought we’d tell the story together.

January 2017: her tenth birthday, and when she finally allowed me to start calling her a tween.

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Also, she made sure to record her little brother’s fairly impressive abilities.

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February: She’s always up for a craft project of any kind. In fact, she may craft harder than anyone has ever crafted in the history of craftswomanship.

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She also ran her third 5K (and began feeling eerily close to me in the height department.)

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In her February writings, she took the time to express her lifelong displeasure in the Chick-Fil-A cow’s ability to spell. (She has long told me that she thinks it’s just awful that they teach little kids how to spell wrong. I did not know, until reading her diary, that she uses them as a scapegoat for her own spelling missteps. It’s fair.)

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March: She’s always excited about any adventure and more willing than ever to take risks and try new things.

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She also recorded this fairly quirky moment.

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If you can’t end a story of inexplicable mouth bleeding with TTYL, are you really tweening?

April: She’s a model oldest cousin,

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She’s cool enough for awesome sunglasses but not too cool to bury her Dad,

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And she doesn’t believe in spoilers. Even in one’s personal diary.

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May: Who needs water shoes to walk on a rocky riverbed? Not ten year olds.

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Ali finished her Alabama History project with flourish,

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Our last field trip involving standing under one of Alabama’s finest accomplishments.

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She always loves reading,

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And, when necessary to tell the story correctly, she believes in a good, solid illustration of crying and injured children.

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(And, if you cannot properly see the injury due to scale of drawing, by all means show a magnification.)

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June: She’s an angel. Especially when compared to her competition.

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She’s still 100% committed to her literal lifelong best friend, AJ.

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And she realized that she likes having a pictoral journal of herself, so is willing to pose for any picture, including holding a giant peach that most believe to actually be a giant peach-colored butt.

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Also, ants are the worst, no matter what your age – mainly because it only takes 180 seconds to go from digging up sassafras roots to being the proud owner of a cluster of ant bites.

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July: Ali decided she was going to become a woodcarver when she grew up, so Pop took her to get whittling tools (with which I managed to mortally wound myself but she uses still unscathed), and she began her career on soap, as one does.

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…Which is less dangerous than her backup careers – snake charmer,

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or supervillain.

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She also managed to record her brother’s most humiliating moment of the month,

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Along with a total stranger’s:

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August: She continued being a helpful cousin,

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A helpful photographical muse,

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And a helpful sister.

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She also recorded her once-in-a-childhood opportunity to experience a partial eclipse (I know, I know – we should have driven up to the total eclipse. I still have regret.)

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September: Ali started the Fifth Grade, which sounds super old.

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Her excitement for adventures-in-the-woods went a bit manic like mine does every fall, which was quite convenient.

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And, lucky for her father, her joy from football also grew twelve sizes. Except when she gets stung by mysterious creatures.

a 10 Ali's Diary IMG_6932 2 s “But not all was good…”

She also realized The Way Things Are with Alabama Football.

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October: Our multi-weekly hikes kept her a step ahead of her friends,

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And she cracked the code to happiness.

a 10 Ali's Diary IMG_6936 2 s The definition of happiness always includes “etc.”

November:

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She volunteered at Habitat for (Fairy) Humanity and built a house from the ground up,

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She discovered the joy of coffee (when liberally creamered),

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And she truly Became One With The Fall.

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Also, her football commentary and illustration abilities became ESPN-Ready.

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a 11b Ali's Diary IMG_6938 2 s (Although when I read the lips of angry coaches and players, that’s not usually what they’re saying.)

December:

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She perfected the art of climbing a tree that clearly wanted to be climbed,

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She got to make a fantastic December snowman,

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And she helped me get kids to smile for Christmas photoshoots,

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Including when that kid was just simply her brother.

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Also, her nonchalant ability to move on after documenting illegal residents is a lesson to me in not sweating the small (and furry) stuff.

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January 2018: Her basketball career is flourishing.

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Our long bout of sub-freezing weather has fascinated her, making her eager for a daily adventure to experience this wild and wonderful Natural Ice.

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She is and will continue to be my eager adventure partner,

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Along with my equal-sharing partner in pants, socks, shirts, jackets, hairstyles, and very nearly height.

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I, for one, am quite excited to see where the year of eleven takes us.