The final excursion we took before my parents departed to return to Scotland was to a local environmental education park. We have always enjoyed going on nature rambles and used to go on lots of local forest walks when we lived in Scotland in search of critters and minibeasts. We had only gone a few yards from the car when we spotted a snake slithering along the banks of a stream, wending its wiggly way towards the water and the juvenile fish who were teeming within it. Our eyes had been drawn to the fish but the snake was large enough that as soon as it moved, even at the edge of our field of vision, we were instantly drawn to it. A friend later identified it for me as a Northern Watersnake, which makes a great deal of sense, and we watched it slope down towards the water, moving its head to and fro as if studying the area and then slip into the water and rapidly thrash its tail to hide out in the vegetation that fringed the bank. We were all pretty stoked to have seen a snake in the wild.
The snake encounter, however, placed rather high expectations for the rest of our meandering around the park. The children began speculating about all of the things they might encounter: deer, bullfrogs, raccoons …. However, they were so consistently vocally loud and moved so noisily that any critter in the area would have had more than adequate advanced notice of our imminent arrival and would have plenty time in which to scurry off and avoid us. We did see lots of beautiful darting dragonflies. In his poem ‘Laggandoan, Harris’, Norman MacCaig describes the dragonfly as being made “of mica” and as a “zeppelin” which has always seemed like the perfect description to me: the hovering, darting movement and the metallic sheen glinting in the light. We also saw some amorous beetles, spiders, frogs galore, turtles and we heard the racket of bullfrogs croaking, the boys found wild raspberries and brambles, played helicopters with sycamore seeds and we found sap in a tree that we poked with a stick. So, despite the clamour caused by my children and there blunderbuss style running around, it was a pretty successful nature ramble.