Untold tangles of catbriar, forests of poison ivy, and dozens of wood ticks conspire to convince Allison to wear long pants and boots. But it won’t be long before she’s moved to upgrade her gear yet again. As we set off over Aetna Mountain I’m showing Allison how to use the GPS unit, navigate the terrain, and look for endangered plant species, all at the same time. We come to a particularly steep area that leads to a creek bottom and I start to head down feet first, using my hands to steady myself. I am just about to move my hand to a spot slightly below me when I catch a glimpse of something that sends me scooting back up the bank yelling “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” In the exact spot where I was going to put my hand a copperhead lays nestled in the leaves. The snake’s coppery markings blend in perfectly with the fallen leaves and I'm lucky I didn’t miss seeing it. It’s doubly lucky because the snake wasn’t going to miss me. Usually docile and shy, this particular copperhead was reared up and ready to defend itself. After getting out of harm’s way I open up my backpack, grab the camera, and snap a few photos. All the while the snake maintains its aggressive posture. I watch the snake a while longer and make a mental note to buy snakebite kits for everybody. (The kits would be largely for psychological rather than practical reasons. Has anyone ever actually been saved by a store bought snakebite kit? The instructions state that the venom extractor must be applied to the bite within one minute. Good luck.) We slowly make our way down to the bottom of the ravine, giving the snake a wide berth and watching our handholds, not knowing that the fun has just begun.
About half an hour later we come to a dry creek bed that runs down slope. I climb down a short incline and onto the rocks and make my way across. Suddenly I hear Allison gasp behind me. Then she screams, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I turn around and see that she’s backed up against the bank, which is too steep to easily climb back up. I’m about to ask what’s wrong when she points to the rock ledge not two feet away from her. Then I hear the rattle. It’s a timber rattlesnake, perhaps numerous, though rarely seen, and this one wants just as little to do with us as we do with it, only Allison has come very close to stepping on it, an indignity the snake would not have suffered politely. I direct Allison toward a safe path across the creek, keeping one eye on the snake, which has now backed itself up tight under the ledge. Once Allison is across I, of course, get out the camera and take some photos. While a person can walk the woods of Tennessee their whole lives and never see a timber rattlesnake, I’ll see another within the month. Allison has snake boots the following week. Heck, I got some myself.