THANKS FOR THE MEMORY
When a wild animal does not see you as a threat but instead allows you to get close and admire its every detail, the sense of reward for a naturalist is hard to beat. This has happened to me before with some birds and young mammals, but when this female grass snake defiantly ‘stood’ her ground I was gobsmacked.
I see many grass snakes on my waterside walks, but usually all I get is a few centimetres of tail disappearing into the ground cover (they usually see me first). This colossal specimen was stretched out on the side of a footpath in the weak spring sunshine. She reacted to my arrival by drawing her head back and raising it off the ground, and there began a staring match (unfortunately snakes don’t blink, so I was at a distinct disadvantage).
I knew that if I approached her now she would slip away, so I slowly backed up until her head was hidden behind an ivy leaf. This allowed me to prepare my camera before slowly getting to my knees. Keeping the ivy leaf in line with her head, I inched the camera towards her. It was obvious that in order to get a clear ground-level shot, I had to get my camera very close. With thorns digging into my knees, I gradually transferred my weight to my hands and ‘walked ‘ the camera through the ivy on my knuckles, parting the leaves with my fingers. To my amazement, I managed to get the lens to within a hand’s width of her head.
Her posture and attitude reminded me of that of a cobra, quick to face up to a potential predator simply because it can. This old girl seemed to be aware that a slow-moving human brandishing a camera poses no threat. Perhaps I wasn’t her first. I rattled off several shots and backed away, leaving her to bathe in the advancing heat.
It was only when I was browsing through the images on the laptop that evening that I noticed my reflection in her eye, there to remain for ever. I know that the image of that exquisite creature will stay with me too, but I won’t need to turn on a computer.
© Patrick Fox (2010)