We expected the ducks and dogs and dandelions; the mud, the muck some mess. The crows and the cardinals,
the squirrels and the spiders, the turkeys and even some toads.
But the snakes? On a sunny Saturday? In early April in Westchester? Well who could have guessed?
My husband and I wanted something a bit more challenging and time-consuming than our normal stroll through Harbor Island Park, so we decided to take on the Colonial Greenway, a 13-mile trail that loops through New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Scarsdale and Eastchester and hosts a unique half-marathon. We picked it up on the Leatherstocking Trail off Fenimore Road, and we were no more than a half-hour into our hike when we had our first encounter.
She looked at us; we looked at her. We held our breath; she flicked her tongue. Because she had no form of identification on her, and because we had forgotten to bring a camera or even a cell phone, and because we had no idea whether she was dangerous or not, we wanted to commit her to memory. She was black and yellow and curled up next to a tree near some standing water left over from the recent storms. She was skinny, had shiny scales, and was about two feet long.
She indicated no interest in either fleeing or attacking.
So we used the buddy system.
"You back away while I keep my eyes on her," I said to my husband.
He did the same for me, and soon we were back on the trail heading toward Saxon Woods golf course.
"You still got a picture of her in your mind?" I asked about 20 minutes down the trail.
"Exactly," he replied. "I’ve got her."
It was at the Weinberg Nature Center in Scarsdale where we got a fresh image.
This one was smaller, faster, and seemingly more fearful. It slithered away from us through the tall grass as soon as we approached.
We stopped, stooped, and pointed out its progress to each other as it moved away.
"You guys OK?" asked a Nature Center worker who was rerouting the trail nearby.
"It’s a snake," I said.
He nodded, unimpressed.
"What kind is it?"
"A garter," he replied. "They’re harmless."
According to the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry Web site, there are 17 types of snakes in New York, and only three of them are venomous. The most common are the garter snake and the water snake. The timber rattlesnake, the massasauga and the copperhead are the ones to avoid, and they’re all uncommon.
The garter snake, according to the SUNY-ESF site, lives in a variety of habitats and even takes on a variety of appearances. It usually is dark brown or green with three yellow stripes, but the patterns can vary. They often live near people and are not considered the least bit dangerous.
We thanked the nature center worker for the information and departed, relieved with the description of "harmless." It was time to head for home.
Despite the recent storms and flooding, the trail was in tremendous shape and easily navigable. There were some slippery stretches and some downed trees, but overall the trail held up extremely well.
We saw other hikers, bikers and nature-watchers. We passed chipmunks and woodchucks, bluejays and bunnies, red robins and glaring geese.
But it’s the garters that we’ve committed to memory; it’s the snakes that we’ll remember most.