Running Buddy and I saw a snake on the squishy trail yesterday. Correction—I saw a snake on the squishy trail, and Running Buddy thought I was seeing things. “Are you sure it wasn’t a stick?” No, it wasn’t a stick. I don’t jump and make that squealy girl noise for a stick. So we turn around and head back to the spot where I saw it; which was, admittedly, littered with sticks and those little seed pod things. I’m looking and looking and not finding the snake (it was a little snake, a baby one), and Running Buddy was beginning to have some serious doubts about my sanity. Then, a little flash of movement caught my eye. There he is! Little snake was, as they say, much more scared of us than we were of him. With all doubts about my sanity (at least when it comes to snake-sighting) put to rest, we continued our run.
In this human-dominated world, I have a tendency to forget about the wildlife I’m sharing it with. Running, however, frequently serves as a reminder and constantly forces me to respect (or at least notice) a multitude of other creatures. There are, of course, the GEESE. Those beasties demand respect. I’ve also had a near-collision with two deer during a trail run. They’re sort of like cars—a whole lot bigger than me, so I can’t really expect them to alter their course for one little runner. Cows look at me like I’m silly, and I have to explain to them that it’s neither feeding time NOR a stampede, I just like to run. They still think I’m silly. Horses, however, get it. I’ve had several run WITH me, matching my pace and everything, for the length of the pasture they’re in. They think it’s a great game. There are also the turkeys, the dogs, the crazy flies that can follow you for miles buzzing around your head so that you feel like a cartoon character that’s just been smacked on the head…except instead of birds and stars, you get flies. I’ve even had one slightly frightening encounter with a coyote. It wasn’t the least interested in me, but half a mile away from my car and three quarters of a mile away from the nearest house, I suddenly felt very alone and very, very much like prey.
And then there are the snakes. Oh, the snakes. To them, a trail is a great spot to get a suntan. A lot of times they lie there, camoflauged by leaves, until the first runner unknowingly steps over them. The ensuing slither (and accompanying rattle of leaves) causes a reflexive jump and squeal in all but the bravest (or most oblivious) of runners. It’s highly entertaining to be in the second pack of runners on a trail run day. Watching 5 girls leap in the air like they’re practicing for steeplechase and scream simultaneously…well, it’s pretty hilarious. As long as you’re not one of the ones leaping in the air, that is.
In theory, I’m not afraid of snakes. I appreciate their role in controling the rodent population. I think they’re pretty cool animals. If you’re running in its natural habitat and you don’t realize it’s there, however…well, it’s a little spooky. My neighborhood has at least one very fine specimen of black rat snake that I’ve seen a couple of times. Once, he (she?) was chilling in a tree to the side of our fitness trail. S/he was about 20 feet from me, a very safe distance to get a very neat shot with our camera. The next time I saw him/her was ON the trail at 6:30 in the morning. I did what I do for the geese. I turned around and went the other way. I know black snakes aren’t poisonous, but I’d like to stay on their good side. I really don’t think waking up a sleeping snake is very conducive to that goal. The saying goes, “let sleeping dogs lie.” It should also say, “let sleeping snakes lie wherever they want.” 😀
One summer, a friend and I decided to do all of our long runs in “Wilderness Park.” Wilderness is probably a bit of a stretch. It’s an old coal mine that’s been converted into a park, with some ponds/swamps surrounded by dirt trails. It takes about 4 meandering loops to get to 10 miles, so running there can get pretty boring. It’s unpaved, however, which is great for the legs, and multiple loops make it easy to swing by the car for a quick drink of water. Our main concern was that it is, in fact, snake city (maybe THAT’S where the “Wilderness” part comes from!)…but being the highly dedicated distance athletes that we were, we decided that we could handle a non-legged reptile or 2 (or 20) if it meant getting all of our long runs for the summer done without beating up our legs on pavement.
The first day we were out there, we heard a rustling in the bushes. Eek! Out hops a bunny—a very cute and fluffy and non-Monty Python and the Holy Grail type FRIENDLY bunny. No sharp pointy teeth here, and very definitely not a snake. Hooray! Taking this as a good omen, we both continued running with lighter hearts.
A mile or so later, we hear some more rustling. Our heart rates quickened, but out pops another cutefluffyfriendly bunny. We started to laugh, and my friend said, “I think God is changing all the snakes into bunnies.” That was an ongoing joke for us the whole summer, and we spent a lot of time discussing whether the bunnies turned back into snakes after we left. However, and I’m not exaggerating this time, we completed 6-8 long runs together that summer, and we never saw a single snake. Maybe God WAS changing the snakes into bunnies. And then back into snakes? I guess I’ll never know.