Friday, April 18, 2008

Bitten by a milk snake

While walking with my mother along a bike path near Burnt Hills, New York, I saw a small milk snake. I picked it up and let it run between my fingers until it became scared or impatient and bit me on the forearm. Its teeth were so small and sharp that it felt like getting a shot with a very fine needle. Impressed with its nerve, I put the snake back down in the grass. On my skin was a small V of tiny red dots. The milk snake is one of the prettiest snakes in the Northeast, and one that I’ve rarely seen. Thoreau wrote about it, as he did about nearly every creature to be found near Concord. He called it a “checkered adder” and noted the “forked light space” on the back of its head. His description of one (on May 28, 1854) was rather detailed and technical, suggesting that he killed it, but the act of doing so seems to have made him thoughtful. “The inhumanity of science concerns me,” he wrote, “as when I am tempted to kill a rare snake that I may ascertain its species. I feel that this is not the means of acquiring true knowledge.”

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