Still wandering aimlessly

bradyGeranium-12Richard Brady | Rappahannock News

As far as my wanderings in the woods have revealed, this may not be the best year for morels. I have been out twice and came home empty-handed both times. I no longer have access to my favorite spot to search for them, but I should have found at least a few where I looked. I know that others have found some, so I need to keep looking.

Or, maybe it is as my son suggested to me some years ago when we were looking for morels, that I am not the best morel chaser around. It seems I get too caught up in everything that is new and coming to life in the forest this time of year. It is hard to believe, but it has been over 10 years since I wrote an article for this paper called, “Wandering Aimlessly In The Woods,” in which I described this affliction. Needless to say, for good or for bad, I am still suffering from this particular malady.

But my aimless wandering did not go unrewarded. The smell of the forest after the rain was worth the effort. And, in one place that I went tramping, the beautiful showy orchis were so plentiful I had to use care not to step on them. The wild geraniums are also in bloom, though I didn’t see quite so many of them. And the rattlesnake plantains have greened out, but are not yet putting up their little flower stalk.

I will tell you what I did find. Several weeks ago Pam Owen had a wonderful article on snakes in our area. One of the main points in her article was how often the non-poisonous northern water snake is mistaken for a copperhead, and frequently pays the ultimate price for this case of mistaken identity. I didn’t see any northern water snakes or copperheads this time out, but what I did see was a garter snake that was as big as any I have ever seen.

He was stretched out right in the middle of the path as I was coming back to my truck. I stopped and looked at him for a minute and thought about taking his picture, but thought better of it. So I gently nudged his tail end with my walking stick and told him to be on his way. All he did was to tighten up his length into more distinctive curves. I decided to give him a bit more encouragement to leave with another gentle tap to his tail.

You would have thought that this was the most dangerous snake in all of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He immediately turned and came towards me with his head raised about two inches from the ground and his mouth wide open, as if he intended to take a chunk out of me. I can’t believe I stepped back a foot or two from a garter snake, but old instincts die hard and that is exactly what I did.

I told him he should be more careful about who he tries to bluff. I then took my walking stick and flicked him about three feet off the trail. I know I could have just admired his little display of ferocity and walked around him, but he startled me and I figured he needed to show a bit more respect for his betters. I didn’t hurt him, except maybe his feelings.

I was also hopeful of having my first sighting of the year of a scarlet tanager, but, alas, that brilliant red beauty was as scarce as the morels. I will try again. Maybe the tanagers and the morels are a little late this year. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the only thing slowing down a bit, as far as I am concerned.

In better news, the garden is recovering from all the frosts, and even my apple tree had a few late blooms, so, perhaps, all is not lost. Something is going to be lost, however, if the crows keep pulling up my green beans as soon as they stick their head through the ground. Sometimes, it seems as if the universe is conspiring against you. Perhaps this is just what we need to keep us on our toes.

I hope you are able to enjoy the springtime. With all its hard-to-find morels and nasty tempered little snakes, it is still great out there. God bless.

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