By Simon Jackson
When you’re sitting beside a lake, enjoying a romantic view in the fading evening light, the very last sight you expect to take in is a snake. Swimming. And catching a fish. A few feet in front of you.
Welcome to the Lake of the Snake – or as some prefer to call it, Grand Teton National Park’s Two Ocean Lake.
My fiancée and GhostBearPhotography.com <http://GhostBearPhotography.com> co-founder, Jill Cooper, and I found ourselves on the bumpy gravel road to Two Ocean Lake a few summers ago, searching for a missing-in-action, famous grizzly bear family.
After striking out – again – we decided that we’d slow our pace and take in the view that we too often neglect while hurriedly turning around to drive slowly back along the gravel road in search of bears.
Leaving our cameras in the car, we walked down to the lake – surprisingly free of people and bugs – and sat by the shore. It was blissful. Somewhere out on the lake a muskrat motored about (because no matter where I am, a muskrat will find me <http://ghostbearphotography.com/the-curse-of-the-beaver/> ), but the water was otherwise still and quiet.
Until the snake appeared.
Now for our snake guru readers, none of this will surprise you. Having now done my research, I’ve learned that the red-sided garter snake (correct me someone if my classification is off) is quite aggressive, thrives near permanent water and, as I witnessed, is quite skilled at fishing.
That evening, however, I knew none of this.
After a few double takes to confirm I wasn’t losing my mind and that a snake was indeed swimming (or slithering along the top of the water, if you will) right toward us, I then cursed for leaving the gear in the car.
After a brief moment of indecision (did I have time to run and get my camera?), the snake struck like lightening and caught the dozy and, no doubt, shocked trout mellowing in the reeds by the shore.
That did it.
To the car I ran like I had never run before and returned, thanks to Jill staying put as the designated snake observer, in time to start firing off shots of the snake struggling to swallow a fish nearly the size of its body.
We quietly watched with fascination as the snake slowly, but surely downed its awkward meal, with the fish tail beating like mad (if only the old D300 had video capability).
But after a short period of time, the snake realized it had a visitor. And fearful I too wanted to enjoy its fish bounty, it decided to make sure I was clear that only it would be enjoying this delightful meal.
The snake lunged at me, rudely waving its mouth full of fish tale.
Thankfully I’m not scared of snakes (spiders, on the other hand…), and couldn’t help but laugh that it thought I’d be intimidated by the tail-end of its meal. I mean, it’s not like the snake could put the fish down and show me its teeth properly.
I did, of course, feel badly for disturbing the snake (even though, it disturbed us by choosing to attack its prey where we were enjoying our romantic evening). So we sat down a few feet behind where we had been standing, trying to give it its space.
But the snake was determined to make it clear as to who was the boss (not Tony Danza, as it turns out).
Another forward lunge – this time I could its teeth. And the guts of the fish pouring out the side of its mouth. (You’re losing your meal, snake: focus!)
But after that last futile attempt to scare me, it returned and focused on the task at hand – digestion – while slowly slithering backward.
After a remarkable 20 minutes, the snake downed the fish in whole and swam away. But not without a backward glance that just screamed ‘I told you I would be the only one eating fish tonight!’
So there you have it. Snakes live in lakes. And they eat fish. Who knew? (Many people probably and, as usual, I was late to the information party.)
And a word of advice: no matter how inappropriate it might seem in the situation, no matter how long the odds are of see something worthwhile, no matter how much pleading goes into requesting a few minutes of peace away from photography…never, never leave your camera in the car.
– D. Simon Jackson | GhostBearPhotography.com <http://GhostBearPhotography.com>