Long ago, in a land far, far away….
On the dusty trails of Weldon Wagon Road,
I heard a ruckus as I approached a stand of oak.
When I crept up on the scene, the grass was flowing in a swift, narrow river of movement at least five feet long. I braced myself to witness an enormous reptile crossing the trail, possibly in search of human flesh seasoned with a zesty coating of summer sweat like I was.
Instead, a lizard shot out of the grass and up a tree and the snake that had been pursuing his dinner from a few feet behind followed him straight up the trunk!
This herpetological free climber and his quarry–we’ll call them Sir Edmund Hillary and Herbie the Wonder Lizard–completely ignored me as their life and death chase continued just a few feet away. Herbie made a beeline for the top and put all his chips on one hiding spot under a branch.
Sir Edmund, a Western Yellow-Bellied Racer Snake, lost the scent about half way up and reconnoitered a few branches.
He collapsed into a writhing pile and seemed to collect his thoughts on the matter. Meanwhile, Herbie was still frozen like a TV dinner.
I thought Sir Edmund might have given up but after a few minutes, he renewed his efforts and it looked like Herbie might be the main course after all.
Alas, sun-warmed lizard was not on the menu that day. Sir Edmund retreated to lower elevations but did not go very far. Herbie wasn’t fooled, though. He was all over that bark like a cheap suit. After five minutes, I got bored and left.
On my way back past that spot several hours later, there was still a snake chasing lizards through the grass. For all I know, Herbie and Sir Edmund were continuing the saga at my feet. I admit, I was pulling for Herbie all along. After all, snakes are cute but lizards are adorable, ‘specially the smart ones.
My hike continued in an upward trend of dancing butterflies, hopping crickets, the real-life bluebirds of happiness. Open, sloped prairies like this one are packed with opportunity; the ground moves with tiny bodies and the foliage is full of watchful compound eyes.
I’ve met hikers out there who shuffle along in the noonday heat with their eyes glued to their smartphones, looking up genus of a leaf or something, completely missing a dozen exciting finds in their determination to correctly label the last one. People, you’re in paradise. Take a pic and move on, you can make love to Google later. You don’t need to know a cricket’s name in order to introduce yourself.
Play patty cake with spiders, stroke baby trout. Find out what a banana slug’s chewing radula feels like. Watch a marmot fall asleep in the sun next to you. I’ve done it all. Sharing a conscious moment of awareness with a beautiful creature is worth a thousand taxonomies. I’d rather tell you what a fence lizard’s tiny claws feel like on my thumb than his first and last name.
Some are feistier than others but once you have them–and they know it–they often go limp in your palm.
Whether it’s an attempt to short circuit a predator’s pursuit impulse or merely a resignation to their next stage in the food chain, it’s a moment that affords inspection. Blue is an uncommon hue in the wild and it’s always a thrill to find it. I’ll bet this guy really turns on the ladies with this display–worked on me! He has a pained expression in the above shot but he wasn’t struggling at all, just leaning back against my fingers and planning his next move, probably. When I released him, he didn’t run very far, just paused and threw me a withering backwards glance before scooting under a log.
Weldon Wagon ends at Sanborn Road in a scattered open air museum of ancient farm machinery and bobcat tracks. Watch for bears. If you head right on the road, Mt. Hood skims the horizon above the first farm.
There’s some good ‘shroom action around the logs that lay under the conifers. Some of them get so large, they force the logs upwards! This one’s just a baby but many of them were as broad as baseball caps.
On the way back, I enjoyed one last scaly encounter. Laying across the trail, spread out confidently like a sultan on a silk pillow, was the largest alligator lizard I have ever seen. A good sixteen inches long, he regarded me with cool superiority. I guess when you’re the alligator, the rest of the swamp steps aside. The way he was positioned on that trail, everybody had to step aside. I snapped half a dozen photos from afar, then moved in for a sexy close up at which point he gave me the stink eye and slithered down the hill as smooth as water. I only wish I could have held him and felt his weight. I’ll keep my eye out for his kin on future visits.
June 14, 2008