In the afternoon light we crowded down to the river. The turk’s cap lilies are blooming now, and damselflies dressed in velvet black and iridescent blue flit among the tall drooping orange flowers. McKinley remarks how much he loves that damselfly blue every time he sees one. We walked on to The Point, where Rock Creek flows into the Toe River. It’s a unique place with rocks piled high by the creek as it flows into the river, making a sort of island. And just downstream of this the river is smooth and wide and perfect for water play.
We swam a little, and then hunted for crawdads and juvenile Northern Water Snakes. McKinley found a snake, and we gathered around and watched it weave among the nooks and crannies of the rocks, coming up for air here and there until it found a secluded spot from which to breathe and hide from us.
The snakes are really gorgeous, with russet brown bands over a creamy gray, and the way that they move so gently through the water and among the rocks is quite captivating. McKinley and I discussed the possibility of actually trying to catch this snake, but the chance never came. And anyway, there were also crawdads to catch, and a jar to put them in, and so, once our snake had found its hiding spot, we began seeking out good crawdad spots, turning over rocks and peering into the gloss of water. We ended up catching seven, I think, and then transported them to our aquaponics tank.
The aquaponics tank is J’s experiment, though it has us all fascinated. It’s a series of four tanks, which are actually blue barrels cut in half. The highest tank is a water barrel cut horizontally, and it drains water into two barrels cut lengthwise. In these two barrels, which are more like troughs, there’s gravel, and plants. The water pours through the gravel and nourishes the plants before it drains to the bottom tank, which is filled with some goldfish, and now, seven crawdads. The fish poo nourishes the plants, the plants filter the water. There’s a pump in the fish tank that pumps the water up to the highest tank, and once its filled, it gushes out to the plants, where it then trickles back down again to the fishes. It’s quite the fun experiment.
When we left the river and headed back up our little lane/driveway McKinley nearly jumped out of his skin. “Snake! Snake!” he yelped, part with excitement, part with adrenaline rush. I ran up to him and found a four foot snake looped about in our driveway. I discovered shortly after this encounter that it was an adult Northern Water Snake, but at the time I wasn’t sure what it was, just that it wasn’t poisonous. McKinley was not convinced of this and kept saying it was a copperhead. Meanwhile the snake was clearly nervous with all these humans crowding around it. Then my dog Oscar, oblivious to what was underfoot, came and stood right next to it, one of his back paws actually half-stepping on it. With this he spun around, gave a good sniff, and became the towel I had wrapped around me and spread it out. Amazingly it slid right onto the towel, which I then folded over. Of course, the excitement amongst McKInley, Renee, myself, and the dog was over-the-top, and we were all making exclamations in loud enough of religion in my childhood, and that was just Southern Catholic religion, nothing involving arsenic andrattlers. And anyway I wasn’t keen on discovering if I had enough God in me to keep any snake from biting me, poisonous or not. I suppose I just wanted to see if I could catch it, and I did, and then it slid right out, within inches of my feet, and I let out a high-pitched scream, which is my biological response to a rush of adrenaline and thereby completely uncontrollable. I also scream for mice, which don’t scare me at all, and roaches, which I find reprehensible.
So the snake escaped its encounter with the Berry’s, and we survived our encounter with a large and docile water snake. The day wound down in its slow summer way, with a fine dinner of beans and garden vegetables over rice, topped guacamole, and the reading of another chapter of “The Horse and his Boy.”