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Counting too few indigo snakes

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POSTED: March 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.
An indigo snake is the most beautiful thing you'd ever want to see. It is deep purple and midnight blue, iridescent. It is long and graceful.
I've only seen one in the wild. They're that much in trouble because of the loss of longleaf pine forests, where they live, and also because they were over collected for pets.
Milton Hopkins, my naturalist friend who lived all his adult life in Osierfield, told me that growing up he'd seen "winsome maidens in hoochee-coochee side shows" arrayed with indigos. The snake-charmer would sit cross-legged on the floor, stroking and talking to the snake, sometimes kissing it on the nose.
It was all an act. An indigo snake is very peaceable, almost never known to strike and bite.
Some years ago Milton and I were driving in the north end of Appling County when Milton spotted a snake crossing the pavement.
"Indigo," he yelled. He stomped the brake pedal and hit reverse. We were out of the truck before it stopped good. Milton was almost 70 at the time, but he jumped a deep ditch and ran for the woods. In no time he was back with a snake wrapped in his hands.
I used to be afraid of snakes. But once I started learning about them, I was fascinated. I quit being scared. I learned how to identify the venomous ones.
I had wanted to see a wild indigo for a long time. Seeing one was like a miracle.
The indigo was about five feet long and very lovely. I held her a long time. I was the girl in the carnival!
The indigo wouldn't stop moving, sliding across my shoulders, around my arms, and through my hands. In the sunlight she was a river of flashing colors. Milton was taking pictures.
Some people stopped. They were wide-eyed, standing far back from me.
"It's not venomous," I told them. "It won't even bite you unless you hurt it."
But when I offered the snake they backed up another step.
"An indigo," I kept saying in the way we all speak out of disbelief. If it were the only one I ever saw in the wild, I wanted to remember it.
Since that day, I haven't seen another indigo. Old pine forests are few and far between, and the snake has become even more rare.
But I don't stop looking.

Ray is a rookie naturalist.
 

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