A Love Letter to the Black Snakes of the Appalachian Trail
Dear black snake,
I know I didn’t make a great first impression when we met. There you were, sunning yourself on the Appalachian Trail during a warm spring day in Georgia. And there I was, a blundering hiker still breaking in her first pair of trail shoes, quite unlearned in the ways of the outdoors. I apologize for the many colorful and totally inappropriate words I said when I first saw you.
It wasn’t you, black snake. It was me.
You see, I didn’t know how incredibly cool you were when I met you. And let me be clear, black snake: you are pretty much the coolest.
How, you may ask?
You’re cool, black snake, because you hunt what we humans consider to be vermin; mice and rats are at the top of your menu. As a hiker who’s shared shelters with mice, who’s had her food bag chewed through by mice, I greatly appreciate your service in keeping the rodents from getting out of control.
You’re cool because you are not a venomous snake. Your species is a constrictor, and so you’re pretty harmless to us humans. When the mother of this hiker was researching all the dangerous snakes on the Appalachian Trail, you were not on that list. Thanks for teaching us how to spot the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes. It’s important for us to learn about you and all the other snakes of the Appalachian Trail, so we can better understand and respect your role in the AT ecosystem.
You’re quite chill with letting hikers carefully step over you while you sunbathe on the trail. Sometimes you even pose for photos. Your calm temperament is one of my favorite things about you.
You have a cool scientific name. Pantherophis obsoletus. You’re the panther of the snake world.
You hold the record for the longest snake in North America (8 feet and 5 inches).
I know you have a rough childhood. You’re so small when you’re born, you’re often prey yourself, even to other snakes. And when you grow up, we humans become one of your greatest predators.
When you feel threatened, you wrinkle yourself together and shake your tail. We know you’re not actually venomous, but you’re pretty smart to have picked up that trick from the rattlesnake. Sorry if we humans ever made you scared — and sorry for calling you stinky. You only release that smelly musk because you don’t like to be picked up, and hikers should know better than to disturb you like that.
And you’re pretty cool, black snake, for putting up with us hikers. The mountains are your home, and we’re just visitors passing through. And even though humans sometimes don’t treat you very well, you’re there for us every year, ready to eat the mice at our shelters and remind us to enjoy the sunshine. That’s pretty cool of you, black snake.
So thanks again, black snake, for everything you do.
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