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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Camp Tales - The Snake

One of my favorite camp memories is about a snake. This wasn't just any snake, this was a snake that decided to take up residence in the Craft Hall for the better part of a day.

It started as a typical tie dye day in the Craft Hall. (Tie Dye Day was always weekly must.) Before my first session I was prepping the space. I had dye ready and waiting in the buckets with rubber bands, clothes pins, masking tape, & fabric markers set out in wait for eager hands, a tie dye shirt on, and was hanging multiple examples from the rafters to help inspire them. (When working with groups, especially kids, I prefer to have a variety of examples to show them everything does not need to end up looking the same.)

Standing atop a ladder, I was about halfway across the rafter hanging shirts (from my large personal collection) when I looked up, coming face to face with THE snake. I admit, I do not know my snakes as well as I wish I did and had no idea what kind it was; only that it was very large and that it was currently only a few feet above where I would soon have a group of eager campers. I calmly stopped what I was doing, climbed down the ladder, and moved quickly to the camp office next door to find the Environmental Ed Director (or Head Naturalist) to let him know I had visitor. Excited, he came to check out our new friend, who he explained was a female rat snake, harmless to my human campers that would be arriving soon. Knowing the kids would be fine, I decided to not let them know about the new friend right above them, in an attempt to have the snake left alone.

One of my campers, a little girl, was armed with her camara when she arrived and was happily clicking away throughout the time she spent with me (and the snake resting above). We made it through the morning without any of the campers realizing the what was right above one of the front rafters (not over any of the tables). The little girl was telling me about how much she loved nature and all sorts of creature and wanted to get as many pictures as possible. She showed no fear or nervousness over the dirt or bugs or critters that are often a part of camp life, so as most the campers were gone, leaving mostly just counselors, I asked the girl if she wanted a special photo op. She was eager and ready.... so we all thought.... until.... I pointed out my new friend. The little girl who loved nature and all critters DID NOT LOVE SNAKES and at the sight of the serpent stretched across my rafter she took off screaming on horror. Not the pretend kid of horror... the "I think it's going to eat me" horror. We did catch and calm her down (a bit anyway), but she did not return to the Craft Hall as long as my friend was perched above.

The female rat snake became a nearly instant camp celebrity as she stayed in the rafters for most of the week, whether stretched out along the rafter or curled up in the corner of them. The rest of the staff (from the Camp Director on down) asked about her at meals and some visited. I had an increase of curious boys doing crafts and spent some time on multiple occasions explaining why we were not going to chase the snake away by throwing things at her or spraying her with the hose with my constant conversations involving respecting nature and remembering that we were surrounded by woods. This was their home, we were merely summer visitors. We also had many conversations about the benefits of snakes and I had to put a line down on the floor where they could watch the snake while giving her some space. For the staff, many of the counselors and campers, the snake was an awesome opportunity to see something so beautiful so close. She was that week's celebrity.

Eventually, she moved on, hopefully, taking some of the mice form my Craft Hall with her.

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