We had a hell of a drive down, at first. Shore traffic was a beast and I had to stop for gas at the Monmouth whatever on the Garden State Parkway. People everywhere were boorish and schleppy, and I left with a real bad feeling about the day ahead, expressing none of this to my wife and son. I told myself to stay calm and just keep driving in the direction of our destination, which seemed many hours away. It took us only three. We once got to LBI in four, so I felt the drive from Bedminster wasn't bad after all.
My mood lifted, but rain fell. Exit 63 had greeted us with very dark clouds. Fortunately, rain sort of drizzled heavily, and I could even use my Nikon, although I had to keep slipping it back in the bag. The temperature was real nice, about 75, and no bugs bothered us. We adjusted to the rain and it wasn't a hindrance at all.
We did find a fence lizard at our first stop. Many leopard frogs--hoped to see a pickerel frog--and toads. And we hiked trails we never had visited before. We left this section of the many acres of the Preserve with many tree swallows out just as rain ended, swooping on small insects also coming out in the newly open air.
The second area we drove to still remained under cloud cover. We found no pine snake at our favorite search area, although Matt pointed out about a dozen skins, which had to be fairly recent. No way they would have made it through the last winter. With the spring rains I'm sure they would have been utterly disintegrated. Matt and Patricia followed on down a sand roadway, and I had take a swim in my favorite swimming hole. When I got out, sun began to break. I met them as they returned in my direction, and then we headed off together back down the road, swatting deer flies. We found another fence lizard in the meantime, actually I came upon it, and got a rather distant shot with my 18-55mm lens. I could crop it closer but time is pressed tonight. And then Matt spotted a black snake on the sand, obviously out to bask. Either a black racer (Matt believes) or black rat snake. He attempted to catch it and failed, but before he dove for it, I got a good photo with my 70-200mm. He catches and releases reptiles just as quickly. We walked down the sand for at least a half mile. Distant water appeared to flow, but this could have been the breeze, I guess. A deep water-filled ditch prevented Matt from investigating. We turned and began the trek back, Matt spotting a great ant, fire orange and black banded, more than an inch long, the largest ant we have ever seen. I failed to get a photo. It was quick. But we saw it clearly enough to try and identify in a guide book later.
The snake was basking at the same spot again, not surprising. And again Matt dove and lunged back into the thicket after it. It seemed almost as swift as a racer. But the white under the chin suggested rat snake to me, although Matt insisted racers have it, too, and black rat snakes have some speckles.
The greatest quality of the trip was silence filled with activity. I felt, as I often do elsewhere, the world full of activity subtle enough not to be heard. So much of life inside our culture is just a racket. Here! Here! See me! Everything is trying to get your attention, so it's wonderful to go out into a world indifferent to you.
Matt involves himself in the wild, but he does so like an expert, since I taught him beginning at age two. He always carefully replaces what he moves.
Matt lights a dark corner. Under this abandoned building foundation Matt went when he was 11, coming out with a 6 foot pine snake in his hands and under his control. Before he was 10 and caught his first, he knew these snakes have a savage bite. But he's never been bitten, except once by a racer. "It was nothing."
Matt taught me a little about quicksand. Here he tests viscosity with a stick, all he needed to test the liquification of the sand beneath. A moment before, he dragged our black Labrador, Sadie, out of it.
Tree on the left is probably a white cedar. Can't imagine a common red cedar in a Pinelands swamp. White cedars are no longer so common, after the 19th century logging, but do exist in the Pines.
Our favorite swimming hole. Don't know why the water is green, but we never have got sick.
Black rat snake.
Matt going into the brush after the rat snake after failed attempt at catching it.
Matt coming out of the pines not having found the snake.