I rarely appreciate the privileges of being born male more than those occasions, which are admittedly plentiful and frequent, when I need to empty my urinary tract while hiking through woods – just find a more or less secluded tree, and voila, can of sparkling lime water to fend off dehydration entirely expunged! Which is precisely what happened the morning of this past Tuesday, May 16, as it has many a morning. The difference this time is that, while relieving my bladder, I observed some vines on the tree and started wondering whether any vines I ever see on any trees might be, eeeek!, snakes in disguise. Which, just to be clear, the vines I was looking at whilst pissing were definitely not. As soon as I zipped up (figuratively — I was wearing sweat pant shorts) and looked around, however, I saw the reptile in the above photo. On a branch. Mere feet from where I’d just been doing what I had to do.
A very odd coincidence, since in my past few years of walking almost daily in the woods near the South Austin neighborhood Tanglewood Forest, I had never (1) pondered snakes in trees while peeing nor (2) seen a snake in a tree. As far as I can figure, the best explanation is that I somehow sensed that the snake was there before actually seeing it.
Of course it’s frighteningly possible that snakes are always in the trees while I’m out hiking, and that morning (following a night in which it rained quite a bit making the woods super muddy if that matters) I was just way more observant, because imagining snakes in trees increases one’s diligence about such matters. And as a matter of fact, the “Pocket Naturalist Guide” to Reptiles & Amphibians I probably picked up in the H.E.B. checkout lane several years ago does say that the rat snake (genus Elaphe or Pantherophis depending who you ask), the markings of which seem to my non-herpetologist eye to resemble the creepy-crawly critter above, is known to be “an excellent climber that hunts in trees.” Though fortunately not for people — a very good thing since they’re known to regularly reach lengths in the eight-foot range.
In fact, upon moving into our current house in 2015, a couple days after flood-level Memorial Day rains, I inadvertently stepped over an extremely long one that seemed to emerge from under the house and kept emerging and emerging. I was lucky not to actually trod on it, and I’ve never seen one anywhere near that length near our house since. A couple shorter ones later wound up in the house, but now I keep a long pair of barbecue tongs on top of the fridge for picking-up purposes, and haven’t had to use them in the past few years since I read on the Internet that sprinkling human hairs (available from any place where humans get their hair cut) around the perimeter of one’s property scares snakes away. Which actually does seem to work. (Of course, fewer rat snakes potentially means more rodents, but those haven’t been a big problem except the time a couple died in the car. But that’s a story for anther day.) There was also October 2016 when a snake fatally (for itself, not me) crawled in through the dryer vent and I had to re-wash the laundry load after initially mistaking it for a leather belt.
Our next door neighbors caught two coral snakes in the backyard a couple summers ago — terrifying, especially since they have two little boys and orange-and-black-striped corals are venomously deadly — but we passed the hair hint on to them, which hopefully helped. I saw one of those in the woods last year, but on the ground not in a tree since I tend to read the newspaper while walking hence look down, and I wisely kept my distance and skedaddled away from there post-haste.
As for the tree snake, the reason I don’t buy the “I was just being more observant than usual that day” hypothesis is that I’ve made a point of being eagle-eyed, looking around quite a lot for snakes in trees, ever since (it’s been five days), and I’ve yet to see another one. Which isn’t to say they’re not there, of course — Just that it disproves the theory that the only reason I saw the one above is because I was looking for it (which I wasn’t, really.) Closest I’ve seen since is the snake skin below.