What’s better than a cool dip on a hot day?

Garter snake PHOTOS: Ann Brokelman
Garter snake
PHOTOS: Ann Brokelman

On one of those recent ‘too hot to be outside’ Toronto summer days, I found myself walking along the beach at Ashbridges Bay. Since I didn’t want to drive home and turn on their air conditioner, I decided to cool off by taking off my shoes and socks and wading into the water. I was about two steps in when I felt something brush by my foot. I looked down expecting to see minnows, and instead saw: snakes. Not one, but four. I take a lot of pride in honestly saying that I managed not to scream. wild side-garter snake beach 176

As my breathing slowed and my heart moved down from my throat and back into my chest I was able to identify the four little reptiles as northern water snakes – Nerodia sipedon sipedon, one of 17 types of snake found in Ontario. For the next few minutes I stood absolutely still. You might think it was because I was afraid they’d bite me (and you’re not 100 per cent wrong), but mainly I didn’t want them to leave until I could get a good photo. I watched as they would dive to the sandy bottom, likely looking for something to eat, and then return to the surface, all the while circling my legs. I’ve never had anything like that happen before, and I’m not certain I’d like it to happen again!

Another reptile highlight took place about a week later in my own backyard while I was sitting outside watching the eastern skies looking for migrating hawks. Rory, my dog, was just finishing his daily exploration of our yard and walking towards me when he stopped, put his tail up and started darting back and forth near a plant along our fence line. I was instantly intrigued, but not brave enough to check it out myself. Luckily my husband Erle was around and, while I stayed a safe distance back with the dog, he came over with a stick and lifted up the big plant leaves. There, curled up under the plant’s stems, was a big, fat, garter snake, technically called a colubrid snake genus (Thamnophis). Through my camera (I wasn’t letting this one near my feet), I could see the snake’s eyes, which were a brilliant red. We admired the animal for a few moments, and then put the dog in the house and left the snake to his business. It was gone within half an hour, but Rory remembers the spot and has been very cautious about going near the plant again. I should point out that he is a cross breed: half beagle half chicken (Not that I blame him).

Don’t forget that it is also the Year of the Snake in the Chinese Zodiac. According to astrologers, this 2013 Year of the Snake is meant for steady progress and attention to detail. Focus and discipline will be necessary for you to achieve what you set out to create. The Snake is the sixth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 animal signs. Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve.


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