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Bold Move: Going Outdoors

Had a couple of what my husband and I call Nature Experiences this weekend. From the "sanctuary" of my little garden, we swept into this blue trash can a medium-to-large copperhead.  And we're enjoying the once-every-thirteen years arrival of cicadas, hundreds of thousands of them. 

I'm not one who is especially bothered by bugs (except millipedes) or snakes (except for the initial shock and backward jump that has likely evolved from our caveperson ancestors).  Nonetheless, these wildlife encounters gave an extra dash of adrenaline to the weekend.

I'd seen the snake once before.  My hand was wrist deep in a bed of periwinkle.   I spied the gold saddle pattern about eight inches away and gasped while aerborne in the process of jumping back.  When I looked again two seconds later, what I thought I'd seen  wasn't there.  But I hadn't noticed the slightest ruffle of a leaf, no sign of movement.  I thought maybe I'd been mistaken, and there was nothing I could do at that point anyway.  I wasn't going to start parting the periwinkle looking for it. 

Then Sunday I caught sight of it, coiled beside the yellowing fronds of daffodils.  This time I stood still and yelled for Bob, who was inside the house, until he finally heard me.   

He came out and proposed a strategy:  I'd hold the trashcan from behind, and he'd scoop the playing-dead snake into it with a shovel, and I'd instantly pull the tilted can upright so that it couldn't get out.  For me, this had an advantage; I wasn't dealing directly with the snake or even able to see it until it was caught. 

It worked.  And of course I'm sure that there are no more copperheads in "my" garden. 

The cicadas are a more historic occasion.  These bugs develop underground for thirteen years and then emerge singing, ready to mate and die.  The peak of the sound and the flying-about lasts around two weeks.  They make the call with abdominal equipment that works like a dog clicker.  Their abs operate at a phenomenal rapid-fire speed, and the sound is high-pitched.   Around our house now, there is a continuous sound like  loudly resounding small bells — a pretty tone.

I first realized they were coming out again while I was weeding and saw one unburrowing out of the dirt path.  It was digging out backwards, a breech birth.  At first, I didn't know what I was seeing.   These creatures come out pale and then take on color, including bright red beads for eyes.  They're fairly large bugs, too, about an inch and a half.  As many as 1.5 million have come out of one acre, though according to "Invasion of the Silence Snatchers" in the May Wildlife in North Carolina, 100,000 per acre is likely more typical.

 We hear them more than see them, I'm happy to say.   I've probably seen a few dozen. And two have landed on the back of my neck (didn't stay there long).   Below are a pair who have paused in their singing to enjoy a private moment on a leaf.  

One thing I've learned in my cicada research:  snakes like to eat them.   

And to think that gardening is thought of as a low-drama hobby!    It can also be an extreme and profound sport.

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  • Beth Browne
    May 20, 2011 at 9:30 am Reply

    But, wait!  What did you *do* with the snake?!  Eek.

    • Peggy Payne
      May 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm Reply

      I left this matter to Bob, Beth. Don’t you think that was a good choice?

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