This weekend Mr. Philly Organic and I weeded a soil area between the street and the retaining wall at the edge of our property. We don’t think of the area as anything special, just a collection spot for dog waste, stoners, weeds, and some illegal dumping. A couple times a year we clean. We’d like to plant something hardy and low maintenance but some of our neighbors randomly chip in and use weed whackers there. Technically, it is our property and our responsibility.
Yesterday had amazing rewards. Although I grew up in a rural area, I saw the largest caterpillars of my life practically in my own back yard. They were black and nearly an inch in diameter when curled up. We found two of these mighty caterpillars.
The best reward? Three beautiful red snakes. Sadly I did not photograph them. I say “sadly” because allegedly there are no red snakes in Pennsylvania. They were tiny and we found them all apart. None of them seemed afraid of us and they did not act aggressively. Mainly they stayed still and watched us until we moved beyond them. I’m sure two of them were immature because they were so small. They had round, nonvenomous pupils and fast- flicking black tongues. Two had lines down their backs but one seemed to have triangles and, possibly, the lines also. They were tiny as snakes go, a few inches long and very thin. One stayed in its niche in the wall and did not come out but watched me intently. It seemed quite a bit longer than the other two, still less than twelve inches. When they tried to hide, they moved rapidly in the curve method.
I posted to Pawild.net. Another user suggested they were baby Northern red belly snakes. He consulted two books. One said Northern red belly snakes aren’t in Philadelphia but another said they are. I hope to photograph them and I looked for them again today. It’s rainy and cloudy without any visible snakes. Now I have a new project: find and document my beautiful snakes. I hope that they will stick around or at least move to the half of the wall that belongs to the house behind ours and is still protected by weeds.
I’d planned to take pictures of the weeding project and to ask readers for advice about what to plant in this narrow strip. I never considered it a habitat or ecology before. It’s so narrow, not more than four feet at the widest point and it borders a street. Now I’m glad that I didn’t photograph it because I don’t want people to bother the snakes. The pressure to plant something there is greater because I want to provide protection and habitat for the snakes and need to discourage people using the spot for unsavory activities. Building a greener life doesn’t only mean buying organic produce or composting your leaves and coffee grounds. It also means protecting the micro natural zones in cities and realizing that even that narrow island can host wildlife.