Dekay's brown snake

Say hello to my little friend: or, contra myself on reference works and conviviality

Yesterday, out walking, I saw this little guy sunning himself on the sidewalk:

Dekay's brown snake

Apologies for the poor focus: I didn’t want to get too close until I was sure it wasn’t a copperhead. But I had to get sorta close, and even then I wasn’t sure of myself. The head was wrong, the pattern was wrong, it was quite small. But it might have been a baby.

So I pulled out my phone and opened one of the few apps that I would really miss if I switched back to a flip phone: Seek by iNaturalist. Point your camera at a living thing and it will tell you, given a reasonably good view, what species you are looking at. I got it when I was hiking out in the mountains a few years ago; it’s great for identifying wildflowers and trees in unfamiliar ecosystems. But it’s also great for figuring out what’s going on in the square mile I live in.

Earlier this year, having had my front yard ripped up to lay a new sewer line and finding myself on the cusp of summer, I tossed out a couple packets of mixed flower seed and figured whatever happened, happened. Now something is happening, but I don’t know what. I think I kept the seed packets, but where? And which flower is which? Sheepishly I pulled out my phone and resorted to using an app to tell me what I was growing myself. (Answer so far: Borage, two colors of garden balsam, pot marigolds, and some sort of blanket flower.)

Really, I ought to know this stuff. I ought to know all my local trees and flowers, and I ought to know my snakes. In fact I know an awful lot of them, but I’ve had to learn the hard way, by using field guides and websites, because nobody educated me properly when I was a kid. (That was in a different part of the country anyway, but nobody educated me properly there either.) I say this in all seriousness despite twenty years of formal schooling. Half the time I don’t know what’s going on under my nose, and I need an app to figure it out. My education was bullshit.