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Saturday, June 20, 2009

road cruising

Last night we went road cruising. Now, whatever lurid images those words evoke in your mind, wipe them out. What ever you're thinking, what we did last night is entirely different. I promise. Let me explain. Since Notah was about three or four years old he has been a snake afficionado. He loves snakes and knows more about them than anyone else I know.

When he was four years old he woke his father out of sleep by shoving a garter snake in his face and saying, "Look Daddy, what I found!" Poor man. After working the midnight to seven shift, he had finally gotten his breakfast and stretched out In bed. He was just falling asleep when Notah hustled in from the garden where he had been ‘helping’ grandpa prepare the ground for planting. Poor garter snake had been calmly pursuing his own interests among the winter dead veggies and weeds until Notah and Grandpa found him.

Since that time he has read every snake book he can get his hands on and his collection of reptiles grew from little garter snakes and black snakes to many very large ones. One of his favorite pursuits is to spend his evening ‘road cruising.’ Just as dusk is falling he and whoever he can convince to come with him pile into a vehicle and spend the next two or three hours driving over country roads looking for snakes that have come out to hunt or soak up some warmth. Some nights are very successful and he may see several snakes. Other nights like last night garner only a couple and those have been hit by motorists.

He seldom catches these finds, but only to look at and then help them on across the road to prevent their being killed by uncaring drivers. The kind of snake doesn’t matter–tiny little snakes or bigger ones, plain old gopher snakes or rattlesnakes. They all get their share of attention and a careful escort off the road. Last night we found one dead gopher snake, one dead diamond back rattlesnake and a cute little six- or eight-inch glossy snake. Oh! And another rattlesnake in the weeds at the road side getting his picture taken. Forgot him.

The whole family went along last night. I got to ride shotgun because my knees don’t fit in the back seats. So I had a perfect seat, but seeing those snakes is hard to do. I would be riding along, intently watching the right lane ahead of me and suddenly Notah would slam on the brakes and come to a stop. He would execute a U-turn in the road and go back to where he had seen the snake. After the first time my reflexes kicked in and I learned to brace myself with both hands on the dash. I only saw one snake the whole evening and that was the tiny glossy that was just moving across the white line. The others I missed completely until we had stopped and Notah got out to pick them up. Snake-spotter I’m not. Kerra, sitting in the back seat, saw more than I did! Of course, she has had lots of practice.
Now, how many people do you know that go road cruising for snakes?
I know only a few. All of them are friends of Notah. I haven’t met any casually driving across town or at PTA meeting or while shopping at WalMart. They just don't grow on bushes!

The last thing I expected to see last evening were other "herpers" out cruising for snakes! We passed two cars of them. Well, we didn’t pass them at all because they were pulled over checking out something on the road. So of course Notah had to stop and check what they were checking. The first two guys were already out of their vehicle coming back to look at the snake Notah had just seen on the side of the road–a dead rattlesnake. They looked a little confused at a van backing up to put the snake directly in the headlights until Notah called and asked them what it was. Then there was an immediate rapport.

After a couple minutes of "What have you seen?" "Yeah, we saw that, too" "Where have you been?" everyone said, "Okay, see you" and we were all ready to drive on. But a state trooper pulled up behind us. He saw the two sets of headlights stopped by the roadside and stopped to see if anyone "needed help" on this deserted road. Upon hearing that we were looking at a rattlesnake he immediately abandoned any suspicion of illegal activity and looked around for the snake! Of course, there was the dead rattler just a few feet away where the guys had tossed it off the road.
Notah had been jumping in and out of the van after possible snakes and I don’t fit in a seat belt so neither of us were wearing them, but the trooper didn’t even notice. He was busy looking for the ‘mate’ to the dead rattlesnake lying in the dust and grass. He quickly wished us a good night and hurried back to his car. I can only imagine what he told his wife and buddies about this van full of crazies looking for snakes.

Then we came upon two more people by the side of the road. One was kneeling on a knee with a camera; the other had a snake hook and a head lamp. They had pursued a rattle snake into the grass and were taking its picture. Another discussion ensued of what have you seen and where, then we went on down the road toward LaJoya. That was the end of the cruising; there just weren’t any more snakes out except that cute little glossy. But I did discover that Notah had met two other herper-guys the same way, along the road at night with snake sticks and flashlights. He has become good friends with them.

I’ve heard him talk many times about road cruising for snakes, but this is the first time I’ve ever gone. And believe it or not, it is engrossing. I found myself sitting forward peering intently at the road ahead of us. I couldn’t see anything, but I looked anyway. If you can find another "herper" (from the study of snakes: ‘herpetology" and the person who studies snakes: "herpetologist’ --It is shortened to ‘herper") ask him to take you along with him. You’ll like it. Well, you’ll like it if you aren’t petrified of snakes.

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