Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Day of Seven Rat Snakes and Swallowtails along the Black Creek Gorge

Watch this Black Racer get off the wall while a Swallowtail
flutters by.  (Click here for YouTube video.)
It was a day of Rat Snakes (I at first posted these snakes as Black Racers.  However on subsequent encounters with them since, their behavior is more like a Rat Snake, as this type freeze when approached, while Racers do just that.)   and Swallowtails. Seven snakes all told. I haven’t seen a rattler yet this year, unusual. The first I saw scaling the railroad tie retaining wall of the Reading and Northern Railroad bed along the Lehigh Gorge State Park trail between the Buckeye Pipeline and the Black Creek. It is fun to watch the gravity-defying journeys from ledge to crevice, seeking out the Five-lined Skinks that frequent the same terrain.

I found two sets of congregating snakes like this and three solitary ones.  (Watch them of YouTube as well as a passing train of the Reading and Northern's Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.)

But it was a big day for the Eastern Swallowtail too. Casually watching a butterfly, one would think the random flutters were at the mercy of the winds. The care-free looking wanderings are impressive. I found myself a comfortable rock and followed them along the canopy of the cottonwoods and black birches. Occasionally two would meet, I think both males, defending their territory, or they could have been breeding, which I learned they do about three times per season.

I’ve also experienced a behavior called ‘puddling’ where as many as 25-30 of them circled around a puddle of mud near Rockport. I’m told males search out sodium and other nutrients in liquids like urine, which very well could have been the case as the area is frequented by many bikers and rafters.

I like to take a 3-4 hour trek once per weekend. My wife asks me if I’m bored peddling that long. It is this tedium that helps me unwind and clear my mind for the coming week, simply spinning. It's what I like to do on my constitutional day of rest.

What I enjoy best on these days is to give myself the permission to lose my sense of time. Today, along the Black Creek, sitting among the bare rocks, imagining the high water of spring, evidenced by high debris caught in branches five feet above the bed, I let go. It was a moment I felt as free as the frolicking swallowtails about my head. And then, time just stopped.

The Black (or AKA Hazle Creek) has water that mesmerizes me. It is as crystal clear as any water you’ll ever see. It has been denuded of most aquatic life from the acidic discharges from the Quakake and Stockton Tunnels found upstream, not to mention the former beryllium plant that once polluted these waters that a $17 million cleanup in the 1990s supposedly took care of.  But part of me can see the beauty in the aquamarine clear color, splashing white on clean rock.

I thought about Professor Terry Clark’s post about his visit with his Uncle Mike, the last of his father’s family. At 89 and in a home, Mike’s advice to Terry was simple, “Enjoy everyday you live.” (Professor Clark's "Coffee with Clark" Blog Post 'Ghosts and Legends') 
Professor Clark's Dad and Uncles.  Uncle Mike on right.

Simple advice. We hear it, we know it’s true. But like the gnat that flies in our face, most of us shoo advice like this away with excuses of why we can’t enjoy things as they are now. We say, “Maybe when I get those vacation days…maybe when I’m not so busy, then, I will heed those words.”

I snap out of my free moment of nothingness, my thoughts returning to the stories I’m working on, the bills that need my attention (my son's $50,000 a year tuition) and the supper time that is beginning to call from my stomach. I tell myself, as my school term winds down, "I will take those days and fill them with moments like these." Those are the easy days.  Easy to say, hard to do.
The Black Creek Gorge as it flows from
Weatherly to the Lehigh River at Penn
Haven Junction.
It takes true zen to take the days of swooping gnats at your eyes and turn them to days of swallowtail butterflies.  Moments like today remind me I do have my moments of mastery, no matter how fleeting.  I am thankful for these lessons.  Namaste.

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