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  • A Musing Pastor

Know Your Snakes!

Most who know me well, know that I will be out on a hiking trail on my day off (sometimes I run). The other day our family went hiking and headed north on Peter's Mountain in Dauphin county. What a great day to be outdoors enjoying God's creation. Many others were out doing likewise. We encountered more than half a dozen North Bound (NOBO) through hikers who were destined to kiss the sign on Mt. Katahdin Maine in the next few months. Most NOBO thru hikers are recognizable by their over-stuffed backpacks and gaunt facial features; others by a stronger than normal body odor (Insert smile here).

The rest of us hikers were out attempting a day hike or a section hike. One such couple was traveling south and as we stepped aside to let them pass, the woman mentioned, "There are snakes further up the trail. They seem to move away when you approach them. Be on the look out." Internally, I scoffed, but outwardly I coyly mentioned that we are always on the lookout for serpents and that we would be fine.

In retrospect, I wished the woman had a working knowledge of snakes and would have been able to discern between venomous and non-venomous varieties. Neither she nor her husband identified the kinds of snakes they encountered. As we ventured onward, our steady hike was interspersed with scanning the trail and methodically approaching sunny areas with caution (great places for snakes to bask in the sun). All the while we passed more hikers and chatted with them.

After what seemed like an eternity to arrive at the vista which overlooks a pristine valley, we looked forward to a rest stop, some water, and our snacks. Tracie arrived first and sat down far back from the edge of the cliff. Joe settled down to Tracie's right and began unloading his backpack. I arrived about a half minute later and sat down to Joe's right. What transpired next is sort of foggy in my mind and it all happened within about 3-5 seconds. I sat down and stretched my feet downward to the next rock below. Joe gasped, "Oh my!!" and leaned to the left as he began to get up. I said, "What's wrong?" and he pointed to a spot just below my feet to a snake lying in the leaves. It was half in its den and half out lying in a coiled position. As he pointed, I looked and saw a Copperhead snake within 15 inches of the heels of my hiking shoes and I immediately withdrew my legs and rolled away from the edge of the rock in sheer terror. (see photo)

It is here that I scampered away with Tracie and Joe with elevated heart rate and increased cortisol levels. No doubt, you have heard about the fight or flight syndrome right? After we all caught our breath and came to our senses, we eased back over to the edge of the rock and peered down at the snake, I couldn't help but think how cautious we were for about 2.5 miles. Only when we arrived at our destination did we let our defenses down a bit.

The other thought occurred to me that perhaps if this was one of the snakes the couple had seen, they might have mentioned the snake's lethal nature. Perhaps they didn't get close enough to identify it or still yet they didn't know this Copperhead from a Milk Snake.

One basic rule of hiking is to be aware of your surroundings, have a rudimentary knowledge of the terrain one will hike in, and a clear understanding of serpents both venomous and non-venomous. A NOBO thru hiker sitting back farther than us looked surprised that we mentioned the snake and he came over for a look as well. He said, Oh, I would have never seen it lying down in there!"

To make this long story a bit longer, we were packing up to return to the vehicle and a young couple approached the vista. I stepped toward them and told them about the Copperhead, led them to the edge of the rock and pointed down to the spot it had been and apprised them to be very careful. They nodded and thanked us for the warning.

"5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers

to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and

they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his

deeds but would keep his commands." (Psalm 78:5-7, NIV)

The scripture from Psalm 78 above is a reminder of how important it is to seek God and to understand God's commands so that we know where the boundaries are and we can identify when something is good for us and when it isn't. The verse doesn't stop there. It reassures us of our duty to tell others about God and God's commands so they might enjoy life and relationship with their Creator.

How about you, do you know the difference between a snake that is harmless and one that can kill you? Better still, do you know your Creator well enough to follow His commands and pass that knowledge on to the next person you meet? These are matters of life and death we are talking about here. Trust me. When you see a Copperhead between your legs and within striking distance nothing else matters but self-preservation!

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