A screaming woman alerted us to the presence of this snake. We were at Pennypack Park with a friend I like to call The Duchess. The screaming woman stood on a slope between two paths, holding a small child by the hand. We stood on the upper path while a man dragged a teenage girl toward the lower path. At first I thought the teenager was making all the noise; it didn't sound like it was coming from an adult.
When I realized a snake was involved, I became concerned. Snakes get hurt in scenarios like this.
The Duchess and I walked down the slope to the woman. She complained that there were millions of snakes pouring from a hole on the slope. How could she get to her family on the lower path? I told her to return to the upper path, and follow it to where it met the lower path, and all could be safely reunited. (The juncture was visible from where we stood). The man on the lower path continued to grip the teenage girl by the wrist, as if afraid she might lunge for the snakes like some death-starved Cleopatra.
The woman turned and walked up the slope with the child. The Duchess and I looked for the snakes. I didn't know the Duchess would be as excited to see snakes as I am; like everything in nature, friendship is always becoming. Two garter snakes rippled over the leaf litter in opposite directions like water drops on a car window. I like garter snakes; they fool fish by mimicking the movement of grass, and some males seduce other males by producing female pheromones--to steal warmth, to distract rivals from mating opportunities, and, maybe, just for kicks.
(At this time of year snakes wake from their winter slumbers in hibernacula on south-facing slopes, so avoid these if you are phobic.)
This was perhaps our richest hike yet for native species. A fellow student in a class I am taking is coaching me on spring ephemerals, plants that bloom before the canopy leafs out. Thanks to her, I saw loads, including the trout lilies you see above, and
and toothwort. I had read that the deer are so controlled in Pennypack that there is actually an understory in parts of the park. Still, I was astonished when we walked into a grove of what I think was witch hazel or maybe green ash--clouds of yellow buds in every direction. Beautiful. We looked for barn swallows around a bridge where The Book (of fifty Philly-area hikes we are sworn to complete before the year is out) predicted we might see them; we didn't, but the Duchess spotted their nests. She explained her love of beech--the bark reminds her of elephant skin. My camerado, a creek fan, was pleased by the creek. We heard the bold rapping of woodpeckers. Best of all (for me), my obsession with the color blue was stimulated by the sight of two kingfishers. One flew up the stream and perched, turning its unmistakable profile toward us--a thrill--this is only the second time I've seen this species in the wild.
(The first time was with my dad, and that doesn't totally count--creatures flock to him as to St. Francis or Snow White).
How tempted I was to take this blue rock! I'm trying to i.d. it, but can only formulate lame theories. Blueschist is my working hypothesis, but this rock seems harder, like a quartzite.
Pennypack is in the far northeast section of the city, but according to The Book of Philly Hikes and my on-line reading, it is teeming with wildlife. I hope to go back at dusk and look for owls (great horned and screech), grey foxes, and weasels. We also did not have time for me to investigate many logs for salamander eggs, because we had to get the Duchess back to her castle, and we wanted to see the EgoPo/Philadelphia Artist's Collective reading of Equus.
I thought I would write at length here about Equus, but have only sour things to say about this play, which raises intriguing questions and finds answers that are simplistic to the point of wrong. Alan's parents are entirely to blame for his problems and tweaking Alan's relationship to his personal religion so he can get along in the world would be completely terrible. I had a hard time believing Alan and his shrink were as brilliant as other characters said they were when Alan's religion seems a bit slapdash and Dr. Dysart is so easily thrown by Alan's probing him about his sex life. I read some reviews of the recent revival and original production of Equus; one reviewer praised Peter Shaffer for returning ritual to theater. I thought that was a good point: the reading I saw had Shaffer's words and solid acting, but I could not have felt the power of Shaffer's bold pagan imagery without seeing a full production. Maybe I would have been as seduced as the audience of the 1970s version.
This got me thinking that the ideal production of Equus would be a ballet, with red streamers for horse blood, no dialog, and a nice homoerotic pas de deux between Alan and Dysart (Equus is like the movie of Fight Club, a completely gay artifact that nowhere states its gayness). The music could be by the Doors, or Neil Young, or, I don't know, Stravinsky.
At any rate, we continue to be fans of EgoPo and Philly Artist's Collective, and are excited about the former's Golem and Dybbuk, and the latter's Marivaux in 2012.