People think me mad when I say they should kick a log—at least once, if not a few times—before stepping over it. While meandering about the Audubon nature trails last January, I said as much to a group of teenagers who had lost their way through the maze of woodlands as they spent the morning picking up trash (an admirable weekend endeavor for young people, something else I said to them before they ventured on).
They stumbled upon me as I knelt above a ravine photographing anything that caught my attention. I heard them coming for some time, most of which entailed this oft repeated question: “Where are we?”
After seeking my guidance on how to get out of the forest and back to civilization, and after I told them I felt sincere gratitude in seeing them putting their weekend toward collecting refuse others had carelessly left behind, I added in parting words that they should not step over any logs unless they kicked them first. “A few times would be best,” I added.
“Why?” one of the young ladies asked.
“Mostly because of what you can’t see,” I replied, “like snakes.”
A collective shiver ran over the dozen or so young adults, yet agreeable nods from most of them meant they understood. They were, after all, in nature’s realm.
Truth be told, fallen trees provide marvelous cover for a variety of wildlife seeking a bit of refuge from a predator, a cool spot of shade in which to recuperate from the day’s heat, a place to sleep or something to camouflage them as they stealthily await the opportunity to ambush prey.
So during a recent jaunt to those same trails on the western shore of White Rock Lake, I found the proof I needed to justify the “kicking logs” approach.
Unlike my previous visit when the starkness of winter made the area ghostly and open, I found a very different world this time.
Lush greenery filled every corner. Trees swayed gently in the wind as verdant foliage reached toward the heavens.
The first dappling of fallen leaves touched the trails beneath a canopy of life, and the underbrush seemed to reach out in vivid detail.
It behooved me to carefully watch my surroundings, from the ground beneath my feet to the air that brushed my cheeks to the leaves and branches that surrounded me on all sides.
More than once I nearly stepped through a massive spider web or put my foot into an anthill. And that says nothing of the scorpions and wasps that lurked about as they started their day.
But it was when I approached a fallen tree across the path that I remembered how best to get over it.
I gave it a few flat-footed kicks to rock it back and forth.
That’s when a southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) slithered out from beneath the log and stopped fully across the path right in front of me.
Because of the cavernous dark created by the woods, the few images I took at that moment showed nothing but a shadowy blur as the snake proceeded from the trail into the brush to my left.
I followed. At a respectable distance.