Saturday, 26 May 2012

Sharing a rock with a snake....

Pania del Croce - the View from La Ceragetta
 I've got a friend staying here at the moment - the first time we've tried out our spare room - and we've been going out and about, having a mini-holiday at home.  The weather is very unpredictable here - thunderstorms and low cloud, while in the UK apparently there's a heat wave.    But we chose a clear sunny day to go up into the mountains to our favourite restaurant - a family run place with Tuscan home cooking where you can eat as much as you like for a set price.   I defy anyone to consume the whole menu - the antipasto alone is several courses followed by 3 different varieties of pasta, followed by a rack of grilled meat, followed by cheese, fresh fruit, dessert, cakes  ........   Local wines and liqueurs are included - you don't order, they just arrive.  We had fizzy white wine, then a locally pressed red, and the designated driver (me) was resolutely abstemious, until they produced some home made berry liqueur with the Pecorino cheese,  a strawberry punch with the pudding (which just had to be sampled)  and then a really delicious home made cherry wine with the coffee (the owner would not take no for an answer).  At this point I finally lost the plot and we were sent reeling towards the car.
We were lying with our backs against these rocks

Rest and recuperation was essential before going anywhere, so we made our way up to a rocky shrine with spectacular views over the valley and the mountain range in front of us, spread a rug on the rocks and lay down to have a much needed nap.  I opened my eyes about half an hour later and found myself eye to eye with a large yellow and black snake beside me on the rock, rearing up to have a good look at me, tongue flickering.  I stayed very still, only nudging my friend with a free hand and whispering 'Snake!'   I felt oddly calm, just fascinated to be so close to it.   As my friend sat up the snake slithered off the rock and down the slope.
The snake I saw


When we eventually got home Neil began to look around on Google to identify the snake. There are lots of grass snakes here - but this didn't look like any grass snake I'd ever seen.  Vipers are also quite common in Italy and are usually brownish, to blend in with the vegetation.   This snake was bright yellow and black in a distinctive diamond pattern - the skin quite shiny, the head wedge-shaped.  It certainly wasn't afraid of humans.   I had a lucky escape, I think, because, if we've got it right, it turns out to have been a type of viper - sometimes called Orsini's Viper - and they're very poisonous.  But it's also quite rare to catch sight of one, so I feel privileged to have been eye-ball to eye-ball with such a beautiful creature. 

I'll be a bit more wary where I put my feet in the mountains now though - and I might think twice about having a nap on a rock!

2 comments:

  1. You took exactly the right tack.
    All snakes have really poor eyesight (and I hate to say it a pea brain).
    It had scented you (they literally taste the air with their tongue) but because you were still it did not really "see you".
    Their vision is keyed to movement (of prey and threats) so being large and still you were just as much part of the environment to it as the rock. The danger to you would have been if you had panicked and started jumping around.
    It would still have taken the better part of valour if it could. But had it felt cornered it may have struck out in defence.
    The statistics are revealing in Oz we have 5,000 to 10,000 bites every year from deadly snakes. 90% of those are to young men attempting to kill the snake with a stick or the like.
    The tiny minority are more accidental from a person treading on an animal. Interestingly even with the large number of bites we have a tiny number (1 or 2) deaths annually. Two things come into play, a high proportion of people have heard the correct way to apply first aid. And all our hospitals have a range of antivenin on hand as a matter of course.
    I've done one of my essays again ;-)

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  2. Thanks for the information Al - very happy to have the essay! I'm glad we don't have the range of snakes here that you have in Oz. The grass snakes are amazing here - long and thick, but quite harmless, and we also have a kind of snake that has six nodules at towards the end of its body that are unformed legs. It seems to be in the process of evolving from a lizard. They are really strange. I've seen vipers here before - usually in the mountains, but always brown with lighter diamond patterns. This yellow beast was really beautiful. The venom kills small animals - dogs and cats - but only makes humans ill apparently. I don't ever want to find out!

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