If you wander through enough cemeteries over time, you will eventually see something strange or out of the ordinary. Such situations often involve wildlife. Because the creatures inhabiting our cemeteries lose their natural fear of people, there are many opportunities for humans and animals to interact in close proximity. I have encountered deer, red-tailed hawks, groundhogs, squirrels, foxes, woodpeckers, crows and ravens, a variety of songbirds, and a few snakes. Most of these encounters were at distances much closer than I would expect had I been walking on a hiking trail in a national park.
A few years ago, I was driving near St. Mary Magdalene Cemetery, in Munhall, PA. The light was beautiful and the sky was full of interesting cloud formations, so I stopped to take some infrared photos. What happened next was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had.
Of Devils And Snakes
As I walked up the hill, I noticed a statue of St. Michael standing atop Lucifer. Although not nearly as artistic as other versions of this classic image (St. Michael was missing his spear and Lucifer was rather small in comparison to the angel), the statue was unique. While focusing my camera on the face of St. Michael, I saw something move on Lucifer’s head, which I assumed was a bird.
Lowering my glance, I realized what had caught my attention was not a bird, but a snake. To my astonishment, the snake was coiled on Lucifer’s head. Before I could take its picture, the snake slid down the statue and proceeded toward me at a good clip. I estimated it was about five-feet long.
Up Close And Personal
Having trapped and kept a variety of snakes as pets as a young boy, I knew the chances of the snake being poisonous were very low. So, I knelt to take a picture of my new friend, who had covered the twenty-foot distance between us in a few seconds. I recognized it was an Eastern Rat Snake, the largest of Pennsylvania’s snakes and quite harmless.
It stopped within two-feet, picked its head off the ground, and stared directly at me. I tried to take a photo, but the snake was too close for my lens to focus.
I backed up a bit so my lens could focus, but the snake was still too close.
I said, “Do we know one another?” After a few flicks of its tongue — presumably in response to my inquiry — the snake lowered its head. I interpreted this as, “I’ve never see you before, pal.” It turned around and proceeded back toward the statue. I followed, amazed by its unusually friendly behavior.
To The Devil I Go
Upon reaching the statue, the snake lifted its head up to the first section of the stone block, and pulled itself up. I had seen many photos depicting snakes’ amazing climbing abilities, but had never seen such behavior first-hand.
I thought the snake might climb back up to its original resting spot upon Lucifer’s head, which would have made an excellent photo. I suspect it had gotten tired of me following it around, however, and climbed down the statue as quickly as it had ascended it.
The snake made its way toward a gravestone a few feet away. I noticed a large hole in the ground directly in front of the gravestone, which I thought might be the entrance to its den. Within a few seconds, it had disappeared. According to my camera’s metadata, the entire episode lasted less then five minutes. I still shake my head when I think of it.
Whenever you walk through your local cemeteries, particularly in the early morning and evening hours, be prepared for wildlife activity. You might be surprised at what may be… waiting for you.
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