What Am I Doing Here?
Some of you may wonder what I’ve been up to, and the answer may seem surprising. I’m working on restoring native meadows on a remote mountaintop near the Blue Ridge. How did I end up doing this? I ask myself that all the time. I have a longtime hobbyist’s interest in conservation biology, and one of the advantages of being a writer is you can research just about anything you’re interested in and write about it. But you don’t often have to do the thing you’re writing about; you can just sit comfortably at your desk and stare into space imagining stuff, occasionally typing words, and that is the “doing” part of writing. In this case, I’m writing, and I’m doing the thing. There are times when I think this might have been a foolish decision, but then I find a cool beetle I haven’t seen before, and I forget all about that.
This project is both frustrating and exhilarating, and I thought I’d share all of that with you as I discover the wildlife and plants that live on the mountain and learn how to make it a better place for native species.
There are a lot of snakes here; I mean a LOT of snakes. Some of them are venomous, but most aren’t. And most of the time I don’t see them at all. Here’s a shed from one that isn’t venomous. I nearly walked into this scaly “shell” hanging over a low branch of a cherry tree. (Yes, some snakes climb trees. Fun times!) And let me tell you, when you first see one of these hanging from a tree limb, it does register as “SNAKE” and not “harmless shell of a snake” and you will probably jump backward into a patch of bramble. This particular snake, or one just like it, has shed on the same branch of the same cherry tree two years in a row. It’s probably an eastern rat snake, judging by its size, but I don’t know for sure because my expertise on this point ends at knowing that it’s not a live snake I’m looking at. The eastern rat snake is a snake you want around, because it eats plenty of mice and voles and there are many, many mice and voles in these meadows. This shed is about 6 feet long. Which means the snake is now bigger than that.