I have eighty percent of a hectare out here at Hickory Head, and even though it’s a tiny thing, I try to do as much good, and as little harm, as I can. Twenty years ago or so, when I moved out here, the deer ate most of the young saplings in the woods, and the wild grape vines had taken over most of the back acre. I fenced it all in, introduced two dogs with some size to them, and nature gave me trees. I had to keep the wild vines cut back every year and that’s some work, but at the same time, it is trees.
Last year, I found a downed branch that had landed on a Live Oak sapling, and bent it down to the ground. I picked the branch up but the Live Oak stayed bent, and it seemed impossible to help it. But if it died it died, and if it lived it lived, so I tried to help. I took a piece of an old water hose and tied it back kinda straight. Over the space of a few months, I kept pulling it up straighter and straighter, wondering all the while if it would recover.
It’s been a busy year, and I haven’t had time to check on it in a few months now. So this is what I found: Not only is the Live Oak standing tall and looking good, but there was a bird’s nest in it, from this spring, likely. I knew the Cardinals had a next somewhere out in this part of the woods, but I had no idea it might be this tree.
If you save it, they will come.
Rescue a tree today, and for years to come, you’ll be thanked for it, in ways that you might not have ever imagined.
Today I saw the twin fawns that I first spotted six or eight weeks ago. They are still hanging out with their Mom, but the spots are gone, and there was another older deer with them. They’re getting wary of humans, and bolted before I could get a good photo of them. But at least I know they made it this far. After they leave their Mom’s side and get off on their own, or with a herd, I won’t know it’s them anymore. It’s very rare when I don’t see at least half a dozen deer, and not uncommon to see a dozen or more.
Animals get used to human activity, especially when the humans aren’t shooting at them. It’s against federal law to carry a gun on a federally funded construction site, and not too many guys want to be fired, then arrested, for shooting a deer out of season, at work. Fewer still employers will put up with that sort of behavior. But guys are stupid sometimes, when it comes to guns, and the deer are wary about getting too close. I whistle at the deer, so they’ll get used to the sound I make, and they’ll know it’s me. “Sit still, look pretty” is my tune of choice, and the deer seem to like it.
I’m deer watching today, eating my sandwich for lunch, trying to get them to come close enough for a good photo, when I see the snake. There’s a sizable Cottonmouth that hangs around a low place in the woods that’s flooded. I think it’s the same snake because, one, it is big, and two, for a big Cottonmouth, it still has a very distinct pattern, and most do not. The darker color is a deep olive green, and the lighter color is brownish. I think this is one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve seen, and as I ease my phone out of the pocket, two of the guys from the project come to see what progress I’m making with the deer.
This ruins the progress I’m making with the deer, and infinitely worse, it means they might try to kill the Cottonmouth, unless I stop them, and if I stop them, it’s going to cause friction. But this is a beautiful snake, and I’m not going to stand around and watch someone beat it to death in front of me. The snake is made entirely of the stealth. The scales of a Cottonmouth are what is known as “keeled” which means there’s a ridge running down the middle of the scale, and this refracts light. Snakes surprise people sometimes because of the way their scales scatter light, and so the snake seems to just appear out of nowhere. You have to see the right kind of light, or the lack of it, to see the snake. To me, the difference between the shadows cast by trees and the dark figure of the snake is clear. Neither of the guys has seen the snake, but the snake’s body language tells me it has seen them. Right now, it’s staying put, pretending to be the shadow of a shadow, and it’s working.
Throughout the years, I’ve learned the hard way people will kill snakes for no good reason at all. Toss in the snake is packing and they’ll hurt themselves trying to kill it. My theory is people feel inadequate when they’re in nature, and killing something makes them feel more in control and stronger. Which explains why so many people can’t handle being in the wild. The truth is, the ability to blend in, and survive with the environment, is the only way to live. Yet here they are, talking about shooting deer, even if they are unarmed, and there’s a venomous snake less than six feet away.
It’s an act of treason or sorts, a violation of man code, but while they’re standing there talking to me, friendly like, and we’re being social, I send their foreman a text and ask him when we’re going to be ready to pour concrete again. This prods him into looking around and realizing two of his men have wandered off. It gets them both into a little hot water, nothing serious, but he recalls them with a few words about wandering away from the project. I get to wander because I’m inspection, not construction, but my time on the fringe is limited, too. Slowly, ever so slowly, the snake begins to move. It eases back towards the woods, and the water, and I still cannot get a decent photo of it.
The temperature is mid-nineties, and the heat index is pushing everything into triple digit heat. The bridge deck’s bare steel skeleton radiates heat, and it becomes an oven. This is where it matters, where what I do makes a difference, and so I endure the heat, and make sure things are as they should be.
“So what in the fuck was that all about?” the foreman asks.
“You text me while those two guys are over there talking to you? They piss you off?” he asks.
“Not especially,” I reply, “but I was trying to get the deer to come closer.”
“What?” I ask.
“You were looking back into the woods when I called them, there a moonshine still out there?” he laughs.
“If there is do you really want to know?” I reply. No one in their right mind walks up on a still in the woods. Oh yeah, it sounds like fun, like getting shot is fun.
“No, really, you got a reason for us not to be over there?” the foreman asks. “I can put a stop to it,”
“Do that,” I say. “And don’t ask why, okay?”
“You got it.” And the man knows that this far out in the woods, whatever it is, he doesn’t want to know, and he doesn’t want his guys messing with something out there. They have a job. It is not in the woods.
The Cottonmouth and the deer get a little bit more protection. I get another chance to photo the snake, and the deer. The snake gets a chance to live another day, and maybe have babies in a couple of months. That would explain the girth, actually.
If it sounds strange to you for me to go to that much trouble to save a snake, a Cottonmouth at that, you just met me. I get stranger, but at the end of the day, I’m closer to nature for it.