Sharing the river with wild creatures
The foothills of the Poconos and Catskills are a gorgeous cuisine of outdoor life. There is magnificence, adventure and serenity. There are sacrifices, too, in order to live here and appreciate all the beauty that is offered.
Take reptiles—snakes, for example. They share the region with us. We’ve all had snake adventures that got our adrenalin going. Many of us have even had one slither over our bare feet (cringe).
There can be harmless, kind of funny incidences with this unusual serpent. One time, my sister attempted to pick up what she thought was a candy necklace someone had dropped next to the commode where we were camping. She suddenly screamed because it wiggled, and she realized that it wasn’t candy at all. It was a young ring neck, probably looking for shelter and warmth on a cold, rainy, early spring night.
There are times when we become afraid because we think we feel a snake. I always swim in the river where I can see the bottom. No matter how deep the hole, or how perfect someone says the area is for swimming, I still look to see what’s on the bottom.
I broke from that tradition one time, getting out of my boat and into the water in an area of the river that was dark. Suddenly, I felt something wrap around my ankles. They became loosely bound. Worried, I looked at my friend, quickly pulled my legs up to float and frantically told my husband to catch me as I let the current take me downstream where he stood. Turned out it was fishing line around my legs, not a snake! Phew!
And, depending upon our location, it is simply best not to run or move at all in certain situations. This was the case while standing still and chatting for a long time with a few friends in the middle of the river. A snake was on top of the water and approaching. We stood still knowing that if we made a commotion, it might go underneath and that would be worse. It stayed on top and swam around the outside of our circle. Thank you! Good water snake!
Paying attention to clues left by wildlife lets us know the prior or current occupants in our space. One time, we had rented a seasonal home for the summer. There were some dry snake skins hanging under the house at the outset. It was the skins under the sink in the bathroom that presented an issue. A few were from garter snakes. One, we weren’t sure, but it matched a picture of a timber rattler on Google. Two rattlesnake handlers said “no,” because the skin diameter was too thin. Plus, there were no known dens nearby. They determined that it was a milk snake. We aggressively sealed every crevice in the cabinet using foam insulation to make sure none could use it as their shed house again. (Ever!)
All was going well after that, until one morning, while relaxing in a lounge chair on the deck, it got excessively hot. I went undercover from the sun. I heard the sound of something lightweight dropping to the ground—maybe a piece of siding, I thought. When I looked up, I saw adult red ring necks, one by one, coming out of the soffit of the house and dropping to the ground, making their way under a large rock. Two garters and an innocent milk snake then popped their heads out of one corner where the soffit met the porch and another one from the opposite corner. It was too hot for them too! It was a surreal encounter that one sees only in a movie.
We stayed in that house the rest of the summer. It was a wonderful piece of property and, most important, we thoroughly enjoyed Old Lady Delaware. The feelings of peace, lightness and connection are so powerful on the river, it trumps everything, even a fear of snakes.
Lynn Guiser has lived in Damascus Township since 2010. Since the late 1950s, she has enjoyed the Delaware River: kayaking, tubing and hanging by a campfire beside the river with friends and family. She currently coordinates WIC for Sullivan County Public Health, a nutrition program for women and children.