Neither botany nor herpetology are my strong suits.

My wife and I walk a section of the Tunnel Hill State Trail almost daily. The section we walk most frequently, about a mile south of Harrisburg, hasn’t been mowed for a while. The side of the trail is home to various plants, most of which I can’t identify.

At this juncture on the trail, foxtail is prevalent.

So, there was nothing out of the ordinary seeing a blade of green grass protruding a couple feet onto the trail. Yet, something nagged at me as I approached the errant grass.

Finally, just as I was about to step on the plant, the problem became apparent. The grass had eyes.

It took a few seconds for the mental Rolodex to stop on the right card.


When the reality of the situation presented itself, I did what I always do – jump and scream. Alas, the leap isn’t what it once was, but I landed well on the other side of the motionless little critter.

Once both feet were firmly planted on the ground I was embarrassed by my over-reaction. The snake, a rough green snake, was certainly nonplussed by the commotion. It didn’t even bother to bat its eyes.

After making sure our eagle-eyed golden retriever Beau, who walked right past the snake, was still otherwise occupied, we went back to investigate. My wife knelt in front of the snake to take a few iPhone photos.

Again, the snake failed to flex a muscle or flick its eyelids.

To get a better angle, my wife picked up a nearby branch that had blown out of a tree. She placed the stick in front of the snake. Apparently, this piqued its interest. It climbed onto the stick and posed contentedly while my wife snapped a few more photos.

When the photo session ended, my wife placed the stick back onto the ground and the snake slithered off into the brush. Although for the remainder of the walk I was careful to check out blades of grass for eyes.

Earlier in the week I had traveled to Grand Tower and East Cape to look for shore birds and black-bellied whistling ducks.

While driving the Grand Tower levee road I was distracted by a box turtle in the gravel. I stopped the car and walked back toward the turtle. Like the green snake, the turtle basically ignored my presence. He pulled back slightly into his shell, but didn’t shut the box.

Getting down on my hands and knees, I photographed the squinty-eyed reptile. However, I was looking right into the sun. Walking toward it, the turtle showed no sign of alarm. So, I turned it around to get a better angle, snapped a few shots and then turned him back in the direction he was headed.

Finally, at East Cape I stopped along a county road, searching mud flats for shorebirds. There were a few birds scattered about, but the thing that caught my eye was decidedly not a bird. The creature was brownish-red and crawling slowly.

Grabbing my binoculars, I discovered I was looking at a crawfish, although unlike any I’d ever seen. This guy was huge – possibly a refugee from Red Lobster. However, he wasn’t alone. The huge crawfish were everywhere.

If it hadn’t been so muddy, I might have picked up enough for dinner. Four probably would have fed us.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.



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