I’m standing in the wild patch at the bottom of a garden in Virginia. Away from the well tended, introduced, garden plants is a gloriously neglected area, with a small stream meandering through the shade of the overhanging trees. There are giant tadpoles and small fish with shadows rippling through clear water onto the gritty bottom.
I have my camera and I’m looking for frogs or dragonflies, or even an interesting bird. I look upstream amongst the floating branches and dislodged roots and see a snake. Yes, it’s a snake. It’s in the water:
I freeze, my hamstrings taut and my breath steady. I really want to see it, to experience it and to understand it. I want to get as close as possible to it. I check my feet and move imperceptibly closer. I wonder if it can hear the shutter of my camera clicking? I can see its eyes and nostrils so close, now. Then I see it flick its forked tongue out:
I watch for so long I think it might be asleep, but as a dragonfly buzzes overhead I see it tense and look ready to pounce.
It’s a Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon. I look it up and find, “The northern water snake is found throughout eastern and central North America.” There’s a lot of North America. I’m closer, when I’m in the UK, to New York than New York is to San Francisco. The USA is wider than the Atlantic Ocean; that’s a long way for a snake to slither. If snakes couldn’t make it to Ireland before the Irish Sea formed after the last ice age then it would take a new species a long time to colonise North America.
I crouch and stare until I feel my legs go numb. I stand and it swims so I can see its wonderful coloured patterns:
It’s been an experience to savour.