My son and I had a rendezvous with a most unusual stranger today. It can only be counted as a direct decision of God Himself to permit the two of us to witness such a singular individual and yet live to tell the tale. I had never seen one as up close and personal before and will most likely never see one in the wild again. Least wise I hope not.
Morgan-Monroe State Forest is a beautiful forest of 24,000 acres and lies just south of Martinsville, Indiana. I go there frequently to hike its two ten-mile trails. Low Gap Trail is particularly attractive; however, Three Lakes Trail is stunning in its own right. It was on the latter trail that my eldest son and I decided to walk this particular August morning. There are few things that can cleanse the mind and body like a ten mile hike though the woods. We have had some of our best father-son discussions on these walks. This day would be no different.
Maybe a little over half way through this trek, we found ourselves on a thin trail winding its way through fairly heavy forests presiding over a dense ground cover of leaves. John was about ten feet or so ahead of me. Off to my right, I heard the noise of leaves being moved through. Thinking it was probably a squirrel, I turned to see if I could spot him before he disappeared into the underbrush. It was, in fact, a squirrel. Oddly, this “sciuridae” was lying on its side and made no attempt to move. His front paws began to shake uncontrollably for just a few seconds. I looked just behind him and only now did I realize the cause of this rodent’s apparent demise. It was, in fact, a very large snake. I judged him to be 3-4 ½ feet long. “Jake the snake’ (or so he is called back in the Texas Panhandle where I grew up) did not move as he watched his prey take its final breath. My eyes scanned the snake’s fat body and I froze in my tracks when I saw his tail. Less than eight feet away from me was an adult Timber Rattlesnake. I whispered to my son to come back. We stood frozen as we realized what we were seeing. This very large snake (his midsection was about as big as my closed fist) had just struck the squirrel and was now waiting patiently for it to die so he could eat. I began looking around my feet for any of the snake’s brothers or sisters. Seeing none, my son and I moved closer and settled in as quietly as we could to watch this reptile have his lunch. I was thinking at the time that this fellow might, at any moment, drop his lunch and come after us. We were in the middle of nowhere, on his turf, and my cell phone had no signal. We had gotten to within four feet of him and I was not real sure how possessive he would be over his meal. This was not a great situation to be in. But, hey, we’re guys. It’s what we do.
After maybe two minutes, the snake moved very slowly over to his main course. He appeared to be examining it to make sure it was dead. Satisfying himself, he returned to the head of the squirrel. We watched as he opened his mouth wide and began to eat the rodent head first. First, he would move his mouth to swallow a little. After that, he would drag the body a short distance in an effort to straighten himself out so he could swallow easier. At least that’s what it looked like to us. The really amazing thing about this whole episode was he seemed to be ignoring us! We got within four feet of him and he did not rattle or make any indication that we were not welcome. I think we stayed and watched this once in a lifetime event for 15 or 20 minutes.
We both agreed that we should have had the courtesy to break out a couple of granola bars and eaten lunch with him. It’s never a good idea to eat alone.