The Lilies, the Snakes, and the Misplaced Boob.

It was time for a new adventure. And I wanted to see firsthand, for the first time in my life, The Cahaba Lily.

It’s a famed flower in our area, being very rare, quite endangered, and living in sparse, hard-to-access clumps along the Cahaba River, which is a relatively tiny waterway that winds itself through nearly every suburb of south Birmingham.

So I needed to experience the Lilies for myself. And with my camera. And why not – with my children. So I asked my group of adventurous friends if anyone would like to join us, warning them that this adventure would be in completely uncharted territory and so it was not for the faint of heart or diaper.

The only takers, out of the 20 or so in the group, were my sister-in-law Lindsay with her three kids and Not-Crazy-Renee – but only with her oldest kid this time.

I had a friend, Leigh, who regularly visited these elusive Lilies, who gave me directions on how to get there, including such fantastic advice like “Wear good shoes and watch for snakes…you’ll have to jump over a creek bed…go UNDER the train trestle.”

Sound words.

So we parked in the lot behind the Bar-B-Q place, as prescribed, and set off for adventure.

The first challenge was the “jump over the creek bed.” Either Leigh has Amazonian legs or the last time she went out there it had been during a drought. There was no way us adult ladies were jumping over, let alone our six small companions.

So most of us decided to de-shoe to cross, with a couple others opted for the risk of wet shoes. We got over, re-shoed, and continued our journey. Up the hill,

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under the trestle,

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up a little further,

Hiking-to-Lilies2and there they were.

The magnificent Cahaba Lilies.

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They were bigger than I expected and there were more of them than my companions expected. We were all breathless in wonder of their bright, shining beauty.

It took no time for us to find a way down to the creek, and the kids began re-de-shoeing (in order of bravery) and wading into the creek rapids while I took pictures.

And while Renee found another rock to sit on and said,

“Um. Hey Rachel? There’s a BOOB on my rock.”

I looked over. She was messing with something.

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She moved out of the way and I grabbed my zoom lens and focused on the…boob?

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HOLY CRAP IT WAS A BOOB.

The kids noticed the commotion.

Ali asked, “What’s that?”

I asked, “Is it hollow or solid?”

Noah asked, “Hey miss Renee will you go get me that big shell on that rock? IT’S GIGANTIC!!”

Renee said, “Ummmm Rachel? What do you want me to do here?”

I didn’t know what the right thing to be done was but I had to examine the misplaced prosthetic. Lindsay and I scrambled over.

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“How did it get lost?”

“My guess is a capsized kayak incident. The cutlet just slipped out.”

“That poor lady!”

“I wonder why it’s so wrinkly…”

“I think it’s just because it’s laying down. I bet if we pick it up…”

Lindsay and Renee both grabbed that breast at once. I grabbed my camera.

The-Boob

This was a bonding moment between the two of them that could never be forgotten. But the hypothesis was right. What a perfect (albeit a bit muddy) boob, when held aright.

So we let the boob live its life and sat around it to take pictures of our children.

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And they were fully photogenic, exploring the waters, looking at the flowers but NEVER touching (thank goodness for Wild Kratts drilling into their heads the severity of “endangered”), smelling the flowers, looking for real shells, and in general living The Good Life.

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A  train even went by, loudly making the day even grander.

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I took plenty of pictures of the Lilies from a distance, but I was aching to get out there. I spent half an hour weighing the risk of tip-toeing out with my massively pricy camera, and finally decided that with Eli’s agility on my team, I could do it. So I called in our most in-tune-with-nature cousin and asked him to hold my hand out to the lilies.

Every rock was covered with tiny shell creatures that felt like I was walking on a bed of nails. And I have terrible balance. But I made it out to the stream to get the pictures I’d craved.

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While I was shooting, Lindsay took a picture of me and sent it to my husband. It took his second look to notice the artistically endowed foreground.

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Meanwhile, some of our children had ventured fairly far upstream and out of earshot. Renee was worried about them, so she’d gone back up trail to check. After I managed to wade back to shore, I joined her.

Four kids were out on a rock in the stream, and Renee and our youngest cousin, Andi, were on the shore.

Andi had just quite nonchalantly said to the other kids, “We found a snake, guys.”

Renee assumed she was trying to freak the other kids out because she was standing next to Andi and had certainly not found a snake. “Andi, we didn’t find a snake!”

“Well. We found a snake BODY, anyway!” She pointed right where Renee was standing.

There was a fairly large adult snake wrapped in piles over a patch of brush.

Renee came and got me. “Hey Rachel? Andi just found a snake down here. I think it’s a Copperhead. Can you come see?”

“Sure! I follow a snake guy on Twitter. I should be able to tell!”

I went down and examined. “Oh. I think that’s a banded watersnake. Definitely not a copperhead. Harmless! But I’ll take a picture and ask my snake guy.”

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I was feeling just swell about myself, diffusing danger and fear like that, and I began taking pictures of the two kids remaining on the rock, Tessa and Loulie. (Ali and Eli had wandered in the water in front of it looking for neon crawfish.)

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They were staring at the clear waters, when one of them yelled, “A snake!!!”

Renee, clearly tired of snake calls, said, “Where? Are you SURE?”

I lowered my camera and looked out in the water. There was a tiny bright orange snake swiftly swimming toward Ali and Eli – with its back arched and its head out of the water and its mouth wide open, angrily showing the white insides of its mouth.

“Oh now THAT is a cottonmouth. Ali and Eli!! GET OUT OF THE WATER!!”

The girls on the rock began freaking the freak out, and Ali and Eli began trying to run on the shelly bottom. Chaos ensued. As Ali scrambled out first, Eli yelled, “We’re supposed to stay together!!!”, and the girls on the rock were LOSING THEIR MINDS.

At one point in our attempt to calm them, I remember yelling over at Loulie, “YOU HAVE A PET SNAKE! Why are YOU freaking out?!” Because I believe in child-shaming, apparently.

The two in-the-water kids were safe, and now it was time to address the two marooned children. Or we could leave them. I mean, they were relatively safe up on the ROCK THE VENOMOUS SNAKE CAME OUT FROM UNDER, as I discovered later when I was editing photos.

SnakeRockLook below the rock right between the two girls.

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This is when it’s good to have a Not-Crazy-Renee in your life.

She looked at me with a determined expression and said, “I’m going to get Loulie. You watch my path and let me know if you see the snake again.”

“So you’re just gonna LEAVE Tessa?” (I’m such an encouraging friend.)

“No. But I can only get one girl at a time. I’ll go back for her.”

(Meanwhile, Lindsay was staying very quiet on the trail with the four children we had left. She would be happy to pray for Renee while she rescued their children. Prayer is powerful, y’all.)

Renee got in the water.

Eli yelled from the trail, “A SNAAAAAAKE!”

Renee yelled up at him, “NOBODY say ANYTHING about a SNAKE unless you SEE one at my FEET!!!!

She was in full yoga pants and tennishoes. Surely that would help her rescue the children. Yoga pants are powerful, y’all.

Right as she stepped on a large, flat rock, I remembered that was the very rock I’d see the cottonmouth swim under when it disappeared from view.

I felt this wasn’t the best time to tell her that, and just watched her feet even harder.

She got to Loulie and commanded, “Okay. I am going to GET YOU OFF of this ROCK, and then I am going to PUT YOU IN THE WATER, and we are going to WALK BACK and you are NOT GOING TO FREAK OUT. GOT IT?!!?”

Her voice was impressive – she could lead infantries with it. Loulie obeyed perfectly. They scampered back to shore.

Then she went back for Tessa.

This time I had the forethought to warn her before she stepped on the snake rock.

She looked at me icily. “You let me step on that rock the first time!”

“It was too late. I didn’t want to tell you while you were already there.”

“Good choice.”

She grabbed Tessa and hurried back to shore.

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I said goodbye to my beautiful banded watersnake with one last close-up picture, then I scampered up to the trail.

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Oh – and later when I checked Twitter…I found out that sleepy, docile, large banded watersnake I’d gotten so up close and personal with? Was also a cottonmouth.

Thankfully, my snake expert @AlongsideWild also sent me a blog post he’d written discounting everything else we read on the internet that day about the extreme aggressiveness of Cottonmouths. They act aggressive, but they really don’t want to bite us.

They’re just a sorely misunderstood snake with anger issues. That’s all.

We emerged from our adventure, amazed that we’d only traversed a third of a mile from civilization – we were sure we’d slipped through a wormhole or out the back of a wardrobe or into a tardis.

As we sat at the playground reminiscing about our day while listening to our children speaking in excited tones to every other kid they could find, we marveled at how the books were actually right. Having an actual adventure is FANTASTIC. And exhilarating and every bit as good as reading a well-written piece of literature. Even with the peril that must also be present to make it an adventure.

We, as well as our children, were over the moon about our travels.

But this post isn’t about snakes. Or lilies or children or even grand adventure.

This post is about The Boob.

And there is nothing more that I want right now in the whole entire world than to see that lonely boob reunited with its rightful chest.

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So please, spread the word. Spread it far and wide. Spread it until we find the prosthetic totin’ kayak rowin’ adventurous women that just happened to capsize somewhere near the Cahaba Lilies on Buck Creek so that we can let her know that her boob is there waiting on her. And that it is enjoying the flowers until they return.


Editor’s Bonus: A research collaboration piece from later that afternoon:

Cottonmouth breast

How Mommy Nobel Peace Prizes are Won.

“I’m having a bad day.”

“I’m having a bad day too.”

“Wanna join forces and do something really difficult together?”

“Sure! Let’s be sure to take on something so challenging that it will surely be physically impossible for us to accomplish it with the quantity and ages of children that will be accompanying us.”

“Perfect! I’ll pick you up at noon.”

We didn’t actually say that, but we should’ve.

Not-Crazy-Renee and I were happily (sadly) each at our own home with our own children, brooding about different things. It was Friday, and somehow we decided that five kids and two mommies in the middle of the woods was better than going it alone at our separate houses.

So I took Renee to a hiking location that she’d never been to before, whose particular parking place in question was in a quite sketch location (across the street from what is nearly certainly a chop shop – I promised her van would be there when we returned – and crossed my fingers just in case), and we set off on a 2 1/3 mile hike with a 9 year old, two 5 year olds, a 2 year old, and a 6 month old – and a couple nets and jars for tadpole catching.

This doesn’t seem like a fantastic idea.

And let me assure you. It’s not a fantastic idea.

There were moments. Oh, were there moments.

There were bugs in the eyeballs…poison ivy everywhere…

“The pond smells bad! I wanna go!”

“I’m so tiiiiired. I just CAN’T keep up.”

“I can’t walk any further!!”

“DO NOT WALK RIGHT THROUGH THE POISON IVY SON HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?!”

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<muddy hands / knees / hair>

“YOUR HAIR IS HANGING IN THE MUDDY NET!”

“I NEEEEEEEEED A WET WIPE I CAN’T BE MUDDY ANY LONGER!!!”

<screaming sleepy baby>

“Okay it’s time to put down the frog. Put him down. Push him out of your hand. Put down the frog. NO DON’T PUT YOUR ARM IN THE POISON IVY TO PUT THE FROG DOWN —- DROP THE FROG!!!

“DO. NOT. DRAG. YOUR. BROTHER!”

There was a moment, one mile from the van that was hopefully not chopped, where we both looked at each other with that look that we were certain there was no probable way that we would make it out of this hike with all five children and two mothers still in good working order. She had a baby on her front and a tadpole catching kit on her back, I had a toddler on my shoulders, and there were STILL three whiny children completely surrounding us on the ground.

We needed a white flag.

We. Were. Done.

But we did make it out. Amazingly, that last mile went shockingly well. And so, we rewarded ourselves RICHLY.

As we collected our reward, the backseat piped up, of course. “Can we have a cake pop??”

“No. This is a Mommy-Reward-Only trip to Starbucks.”

“Reward for what?!”

“For taking you children into the woods and not losing our MINDS. (Or at least if we did, finding them again before we left.)

We all went back to my house and had a grand poison ivy wash party in the bathtub.

And then I shooed my neighbors away, told my kids to knock themselves out playing iPad (literally if they wanted to I really didn’t care), and I took a shower and edited the photos from our epically disastrous hike.

Except I quickly discovered that I didn’t take any photos of the screaming, hopeless, Oh Dear God how are we going to get out of here moments. And also that children are never more beautiful than when they’re physically nowhere around but you’re quietly enjoying editing photos of their pretty faces.

Like for instance, this photo. I was helping some child with some emergency and Renee needed to put a fussy baby back into the Ergo. So what did she do? She handed fussy baby to my kid for a minute so she could reposition the baby carrier. And somehow, magically, it worked for a hot minute.

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They’re so quiet and it’s so adorable and still. You’d never know that Noah just screamed “OWWWW!! He’s sitting on my firehose!!”

Or, that just a minute after taking this picture,

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Noah saw a pack of gummies, forgot he was holding a baby, grabbed the gummies with one hand and started opening them with the other hand, thereby leaving no hands and arms around the baby in his lap, letting the baby flay out onto the dock.

“Hold the baby Hold the baby HOLD THE BABBBBY!!!”

<wails from baby>

But you’d never know it from the pictures.

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(With regards to this event, Ali had the following conversation later that night with Chris…

Ali: “Noah was holding Joshua but then he forgot to hold him because he decided to eat some gummies and Joshua fell and almost hit his head.”

Chris: “That’s okay. Noah doesn’t have a lot of experience holding babies yet.”

Ali: “Yeah and when he has held babies before, it was on the soft couch. And there weren’t snacks around.”)

(Moral of the story: It is child endangerment to let five year olds hold babies when snacks could become visible.)

Also. Child quarrels are so much more adorable when had in the woods…and also when photographed with NO SOUND.

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And little explorers look much more Indiana Jonesish when you can’t hear the Mothers yelling, “Come back! It’s time to come out of the cave!!!” Because we really didn’t want to crawl in after him.

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(And, if photographed just so (aka accidentally out of focus), children can even look like ghosts of children past. How much would you freak out if you looked in a small railbed tunnel in the middle of nowhere and saw this.)

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When reviewing photographs, you just remember the thrill of exploring new worlds and old civilizations – not the overwhelming feeling of HOLY-CRAP-PLEASE-DON’T-LET-THOSE-GIANT-CAMEL-CRICKETS-JUMP-INTO-HER-HAIR.

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And then sometimes you’re distracting all the kids so that your friend can attempt to catch a frog…or tadpoles…or just rinse out the giant clumps of mud the children collected in the tadpole-catching-nets. And somehow, the lighting is just perfect and the children are all smiling and…

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…and then you realize that your friend is actually doing some sort of AMAZING dance behind your head to get those children to smile. But whatev. Nothing matters but this tiny perfect second in the middle of miserable chaos.

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But the best picture I captured on that unforgettable, delightful, fantastic, can’t-wait-to-do-it-again hike was a particularly beautiful bonding moment (and might I say, at an exceptionally nice angle) between Not-Crazy-Renee and Noah, while they both desperately searched for tadpoles.

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Yes. The pictures always make the trauma worth it.

Self-Esteem Lessons From the Petting Zoo.

So. Not-Crazy-Renee and I took our kids to Oak Mountain State Park on Friday. We went on a hike, and then to the petting zoo. The goats, peacocks, donkey, and pony were as much fun as usual, and the mixture of animals and children made for delightful photographic opportunities.

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At one point, I took a couple of pictures of Not-Crazy-Renee hanging out with my favorite petting zoo character, the donkey. He’s really quite the best.

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I noticed in the pictures (and really several times that day) that Not-Crazy-Renee was looking mighty hot. When I sent her the pictures, she noticed also, and thanked me for providing her the first pictures of herself that didn’t make her say “Holy Baby Weight, Batman!!”

To pay me back for taking FABULOUS pictures of her (and her children), she sent over a photo she snapped of me feeding the goats (because my children had shoved their bags of feed into my hands due to their premature tiring of their goat following.)

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I couldn’t even look at the photo but for a second – I was not happy. I have body image issues just like 99.9% of women. I especially struggle with seeing photos of myself, like 99.8% of women (the .01% post selfies all the time and I’m all like HOW ARE YOU SO GOOD AT THAT? And stop.)

Many times, I have complained to friends of the struggle of not knowing which me with the real me -Mirror Me or Photo Me?? I want it to be Mirror Me. Because when I look in the mirror, I’m usually not unhappy. But Photo Me – she kills me every time.

Naturally, I spent the entire evening internally obsessing over new nutrition plans and calorie counting and maybe I need to add some other forms of exercise in with my running, as one does. You know the drill. It’s the plight of women.

(And if you don’t, I envy you greatly.)

The next morning, as I was getting ready to go on a run that I really didn’t feel like doing but I was going to because of that DANG PICTURE, I looked in the mirror in a very similar exercise shirt to the one I had worn the day before. I was again befuddled at the difference between me Mirror Me and Photo Me.

WHY can’t they be the same person? And WHICH one is really me??

So I decided to take a picture of Mirror Me and see if Mirror Me would stay Mirror Me when inserted into a photo. I NEEDED TO KNOW.

Mirror Me did indeed stay Mirror Me.

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Further befuddlement.

I had even shot the photo more straight-on, trying to get a bad angle in there to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. I wasn’t sucking in or anything – I needed THE TRUTH. I even let my bra strap side fat hang out!

I then took a selfie without the mirror involved just to make sure Mirror Me wasn’t lying.

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(Let me assert here that none of this was done in the interest of a future blog post – it was all done due to my own ridiculous vanity, confusion, and Quest For The Real Me.)

Then I put my Mirror Me Selfie and My Not-Crazy-Renee photo next to each other, zero edits on either one.

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I was blown away. And I realized that my photo collage seemed very familiar….if I just swapped the order of the two pictures, I could sell $200 per month diet pills by saying this was my before and after!

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I have known about the power of angles for a long time, and have believed in it fully in the case of how my face looks, but I’d never completely allowed myself to believe it with my body image. So this was a huge moment for me. It helped me realize that I’ve got to stop freaking out about photos. Because cameras lie. All the time. And even the most most beautiful celebrities get horrendous photos taken of them sometimes.

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(Oh look at that. Even Beyonce.)

After staring at my two photos for an extended and entirely ridiculous amount of time, I went on my run, feeling much more awesome about myself. Every glance I caught in a window looked skinnier, stronger, and more confident than my last run had because, as I’m well aware, what I look like mentally is 90% what what my head thinks I look like.

So. Next time you see a horrible photo of yourself, and you immediately vow to start a new diet and make your life more miserable with disgusting cardboard food or perhaps just liquids, go look in a mirror. And maybe even take a selfie.

Because it was just a bad photo.

Not-Crazy-Renee and I still love each other (well, she might love me more than I love her – at least for 22 hours,) and in actuality, we both helped each other out with our photos. I helped her realized that she has indeed lost all that baby weight (and she has – it wasn’t just trick photography), and she helped me realize that I need to quit letting my mental image of myself be dictated by Photo Me. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, but from now on, I’m going to believe that the real me is Mirror Me.

Oh – and because I know you wanted this to be a Not-Crazy-Renee story and not some introspective revelation, just to let you know, Not-Crazy-Renee is just as Not-Crazy as ever – especially when she uses text dictation.

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