My first copperhead

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I’m on a high this week because I saw my first copperhead snake last Thursday, at last.

Three years ago I moved to this hill in upstate New York, and it’s supposed to have copperheads. There’s a gulch a mile from here called Copperhead Cut. The old farmer at the bottom of the hill on the east tells me he used to see a lot of them, no longer. Still, I was keen to see one. I’m one of those people who’s hung up on snakes. I’m not alone. They’re the original shitstirrers, from Genesis, and they’re powerful and dangerous and beautiful.

I go walking all over these hills. I saw a bunch of black snakes– and I’ve seen plenty of rattlers in the Highlands– but never a copperhead. I decided that they were gone, mythological, another time and place. The only one I ever saw was dead, on the Fishkill Road, a few miles from here, different watershed.

Last Thursday a friend and I were out for two hours and went to a lake not far from the Appalachian Trail as it comes through here. There was an old guy in a towel sitting on a log by the lake, his knee braces on the ground. Hank– he’d just been swimming.

The dogs went in the water, and I was walking back from the dam when I saw the copperhead. It was a couple feet off the trail on a long piece of bark in a patch of sun. It was looped around, but not coiled. I knew in my gut before the thought came into my head, that’s a copperhead. It was copper like a copper beech leaf is copper, purple-blue, with its markings in a bluish black, and it was fat and long. I called Richard and Hank over. They’d all walked by it a couple times. It was just in the brush. We stared at it for a while and it stood our scrutiny for a time then it lifted its powerful diagonal head and unfolded itself and moseyed off.

It was four feet long, and wanted no part of us.

The walk back was interesting. I was wearing Chaco sandals and didn’t take my eyes off the trail. All I’ve done since then is talk about copperheads. I was having a spectacular fight with my wife when I went on the hike, but when I got back, I just talked about copperheads. A friend sent me this, about getting bitten.

I’ll never walk the same way around here. I got so used to there being no copperheads I would go through any brush, bushwhacking, without concern. I’ve gone gallivanting through Copperhead Cut many a time, over fallen trees and high grass. I realized I’ve probably passed a lot of copperheads just like I passed this one at first, and they booked. 

Walking around here the last couple years, I started to think I was king. I was innocent and stupid. Last week I finally saw the king, thick and blue and shy. 

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