They swirled around in a noisy, buzzing cloud right outside the window where I am writing this. A queen and her court were swarming, looking for a new home to settle down in. I was sure our neighbor could help. She is a beekeeper–a real estate agent for bees who gets paid in honey . I have never known exactly how she gets the bees to live in boxes, but now I do.

Bees from CApoppy on Vimeo.

Snakes Alive – Again

rattlesnake on patioToday is the Fourth of July. Another hot day, following a week of them. In the 80s and 90s both day and night for a week. Avid bicyclists started climbing the hill early, pedaling by before 7 a.m. And I was out gardening and sweeping before the sun got too high in the sky. As I came around the house and started walking across the patio, I saw it, a spotted rattler camouflaged with fallen leaves. Not a huge one, but not a tiny one either. It was resting, not going any where, and was oblivious to me. What to do.

Usually when I come upon snakes, they decide it is time to leave. I quietly got a little closer thinking it might decide to take a hike. But no. Continue reading

Snakes You Should Meet

Of course we live in the wild. Every year or two we have some snakes around, as well as a lot of other wild life.  This year we have had almost a snake a month. So I am showcasing this year’s snakes, which I have come to appreciate. The only “bad” snakes we are apt to have are rattlers and so far there have been none this year. Even rattlers do some good and are not anxious to to encounter people. They go away if they see you first. So here are this year’s snakes. Continue reading

A Visit from the King

The garden was decked out in regal splendor. The roses were at their peak, the daisies were just starting to wane and poppies were everywhere. Visitors and locals abounded. Thrashers watched hourly for a perfectly ripe blueberry, jays cleaned up acorns, band-tailed pigeons visited the elderberries to see if they were ripe, deer grazed on dandelion flowers, tadpoles swam in the pond and coyotes left their mark to trot off to work down the driveway. Rabbits peeked out from the manzanita, avoiding coyotes eyeing the lettuce. Overhead turkey vultures soared on warm currents. It was the perfect time to have the king stop by for a visit. We have been honored.

A Visit from the King from CApoppy on Vimeo.

I turned around and saw him snaking alongside the studio. He was gorgeous! About four feet long slowly making his way along the porch. I happened to have my camera in my pocket. A perfect opportunity! He noticed me, turned, and went into the woodpile. Excited, I went inside to show Gordon the picture. When I came out, he was gone–but not quite. He poked his head out of the woodpile but quickly retreated when he saw me. I backed off and tended to weeding, all the time watching for him. Eventually he emerged, went into the garden, turned and exited into the wilds on the other side of the fence.

Snakes Alive!

A yard-long gopher snake lies stretched across my driveway. Having lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains for over a quarter of a century, I have learned to recognize a snake when I see one. This is definitely a snake and, more specifically, definitely a gopher snake.

Both gopher snakes and rattlesnakes live around here. I’ve happened on both. It’s simple enough to tell them apart even though they are similar in color. Rattlesnakes have a distinct head and tail. And, after all, what is there to describe other than a head and a tail. In between a snake looks a lot like—well—a snake, although maybe a snake of a different color or stripe. This snake has no rattle on one end, no diamond-shaped head on the other, just an elegant snake body tapering to a point with a sleek integrated extension-of-the-body head on the other end.

I stop about two feet away. The snake doesn’t notice me. I decide to watch. When you see a snake, any kind of snake, you know you have the advantage. The snake has not seen you yet. If it had, it would be gone, more startled by you than you by it.

The snake doesn’t move. An ant marches deliberately toward the midsection of the snake carrying a leaf stalk many times its height. It reaches the snake and becomes confused. It turns and scurries toward the head of the snake. All I can see is the bobbing leaf stalk moving up the length of snake. The ant loses its scent trail and turns back to scurry along the snake towards its tail. Once again it loses the scent and turns toward the head. Three passes back and forth. Finally the ant climbs on the snake’s tail, is again confused and goes back to pacing the snake’s length.

The inert snake flicks its tongue and moves forward almost imperceptibly.  Smelling the air with its forked tongue, slowly, ever so slowly, the snake moves forward a bare fraction of an inch at a time. Ten minutes pass. The snake has moved a foot. The ant still scurries back and forth on the other side of the snake. The snake continues its slow progress. Finally the snake moves far enough for the ant to find its path. It eagerly surges forward, but encounters another ant, one of a different species. The ants engage each other. A battle ensues. The ant that finally got past the snake abandons its stalk and repeatedly attacks the intruding ant. It seizes the ant, which is almost its same size. Forsaking its plant trophy, it carries its captive, still struggling, down the preordained path.

The snake moves another six inches, a millimeter at a time. It becomes infinitesimally more animated. Its tongue flicks faster; it starts swaying its head from side to side. Twenty minutes have passed. The ant has carried off its victim. The snake is gradually being swallowed by the chaparral leaving a furrow in the dust of the driveway.

The beginning of this story? The end? There is no beginning; there is no end. Life continues.

To compare a gopher snake and a rattlesnake visit YSI in Alum Rock Park.