As the children became more accustomed to hiking in nature,through forests and deserts, in mountains, along craggy coastlines, and over bogs, their chatter increased. Suddenly, the silence of nature was no more–at least wherever we were.
We always hiked in a single file as trails in the mountains and bogs tend to be narrow. Our family constitutes a “mob” of hikers [seven people], a mob of slow hikers at that, so we needed to make room for faster hikers to be able to pass. My husband led the way because we needed to know where we were going, and I brought up the rear, to keep an eye on the children. Perhaps that’s why the children were so loud. They were always screaming to their siblings, usually two children away. We’ve frightened away more wild turkeys, American Goldfinches, deer, moose, and salamanders than I care to remember. Every time I tried to hush the children to point to a little neon orange salamander on our path or a huge turkey in the shadows of the shrubbery, the cacophony of kids beat me to the point. In fact, the creatures literally skittered or fluttered off in terror!
This was not the case with bear and snakes, however, a fact that still terrifies me. You see the bears, usually a cub calling for mom–and I bet anything that I was between mom and cub–and the snakes, seeking the itty bit of sun streaming through the forest canopy heating up their own personal rocks, always stayed to give attitude. They would glare at me stating with their presence, “Madam, could you keep the noise down; this is my home,” or it was more likely, “I was here first; beat it!” And I had every intention of “beating it,” but by the time the creature got to me, it was usually fed up with all my children and it told me so in posture or cry.
I remember one particular incident when our family was boisterously coming around the side of a cliff ledge along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia one summer, tromping over the loose rocks and boulders, I bringing up the rear as usual. Once again, no one saw it…but me. A slick black snake with flecks of bright yellow and orange, as if God dabbed it with the tip of his paintbrush. By the time the snake met me, it had arched as high as my knee and tasted my own personal air with its tongue, air filled with the sweat of fear. The children’s babble trailed away around the curve of the mountain, as my daughter hadn’t heard my dry whisper for assistance. I faced the snake alone. And it glared at me…