Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Rest of the Story

Dolly Sods, Part 2:

As my sister Mary headed off the road to look at something, I cautioned, "Watch out for rattlesnakes." Judy was ready with a camera and her picture of Mary--and Theresa laughing--says all that needs to be said about the impact of my words. Of course there was no snake. Then.

We left Dolly Sods and headed downhill, stopping to look at the view and at wildflowers we somehow missed on the way up. The gas gauge was getting more interesting all the time--even the light was coming on to say, "Stupid! You should have bought gas before you came up here!" But you see, my Rendezvous has an odd gas gauge--when there is almost half a tank it will drop to empty and RUN OUT OF GAS if I'm on the wrong kind of downhill slope. I know because twice it ran out of gas in my driveway parking spot, even though I knew it had plenty in the tank. Which gave Larry all sorts of "I told you so" ammunition.

But to get back to our trip...

So we looked at flowers and took pictures of the view and no one was really looking at the road--except me because this is a typical one-lane-bumpy gravel-West-Virginia-road and you'd better be paying attention or you'll jar your teeth out in the potholes. And that's why I saw him--or her.

I didn't get close enough to determine the sex. This Eastern Timber Rattler was a beauty and apparently recently shed its skin because it was very brightly and freshly colored. It had nine rattles and a button, Larry told me (you know that by counting the rings at the end of its tail) which means it was no spring chicken.

The snake was about 3-4 feet long and it seemed to be enjoying the warm sun on the road. Even when we tossed some pebbles and a cracker at it (okay, that was me--I thought it might be hungry and want a cream cheese and chives cracker!) it didn't offer to shake its rattles. We stayed in the Rendezvous, of course--except Judy who went around back of the car to look more closely at our friend. Mary and Theresa really weren't interested in looking!

When we left, the snake continued sunning itself. We hadn't disturbed its plans at all.

(And yes. We made it to the gas station with plenty of gas to spare. As soon as we hit a level spot, the light went out and the gauge returned to its correct position. Weird car.)


solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

what amazing photos! over here we only really have grass snakes and adders.

love you fuel gauge! we carry a dipstick with us as our gauge is all over the shop~but we do know that empty is not empty!

Cathy said...

You have just made me rethink my morning walks in the woods! I haven't seen a snake yet and I hope I don't. I am hoping I get to see you this weekend at Vandalia!

Granny Sue said...

Just be noisy and carry a big stick, Cathy! Of course, on this side of the state, we don't have many rattlesnakes--although several years ago a 5 foot one was killed about a mile from my home. I don't recall having seen one myself in this area, just plenty of copperheads.

laoi, we have a lot of different snakes here, mostly non-poisonous varieties. They are beautiful, although I'm mighty respectful of all of them.

Granny Sue said...

Hey Cathy! I forgot to say I'll be looking for you this weekend! I'll be at the storytelling tent in the children's area for the most part, and telling in the theatre between 12:30-1:30.

Susan said...


(no snakes here...)

Laura said...

When we see a snake in the road here we say it means rain. We killed a rattlesnake in our yard last year that was over 3 feet long--I don't remember how many rattles it had, but they were large.

Granny Sue said...

Count yer blessins, Susan! We've got plenty to spare--little green ones, little brown ones, striped, ringed, solid, patterned, poisonous and non-poisonous. I have to admit I like them, especially the big black ones that hang around the chicken house in the summer. It is so funny to see people coming running out of there when they otice the snake stretched across the rafters!

Granny Sue said...

Laura, you're in real snake country. My ex-husband was from Texas and he had many hair-raising snake stories to tell. We're pikers compared to what you have.

Country Whispers said...

oooh yuck....snakes are not my thing!
I like to look at them (in awe of something that gross because they really give me the willy's)but don't want anywhere near them.

Matthew Burns said...

I see spring is finally starting to arrive in the high country.

Everytime I think of or see Dolly Sods, I can't help but think of the time my Dad was abandoned out on the Huckleberry Plains for refusing to babysit his little cousins. Dad was only 5 years old, and they left him out there. It was about 1961. Luckily, Dad was smart enough to stick to the road and he was determined to walk home. When the people who left him there got home, they informed Dad's mother about what they had done and she very nearly beat the crap out of the guilty party. She alerted my Granddad, and they raced towards Dolly Sods to try and find my Dad. Just by some stroke of luck, as Dad was walking home, his uncle happened upon him and asked him what in the world he was doing walking out in the middle of nowhere. Dad told him what had happened and of course his uncle picked him up and was giving him a ride home when they met Dad's parents who were coming in search of him. Needless to say, Dad still doesn't like to go out on Dolly Sods, nor does he have anything nice to say about the people who left him out there.
I just can't imagine the mindset of someone who would leave a 5 year old boy out on the Huckleberry Plains of Dolly Sods to fend for himself.


Granny Sue said...

I can't either, Matthew. Sadistic is the only word for them, because that is high lonesome country.

We've been there berry-picking before and there are so many huckleberries and blueberries. Once when we were camping there, we met a man who'd grown up at the foot of the mountain. He didn't tell us his name, but his family had been in the area for years. He said they used to intentionally burn off the mountain about every 4 years to keep down the brush and improve the berrypicking. Then when it came into the care of the Forest Service, they had to stop burning it. Have you ever heard that?

Juli said...

What an excellent adventure. I'm glad everyone was safe in the care when your snake prediction came true :) I hope the snake made it safely to it's destination at the end of the day.

I know I don't comment enough but reading here, which I do way more often than it seems, always makes me smile.

Matthew Burns said...

Granny Sue,

Yes, my Dad says he remembers when they used to burn off the huckleberry plains. So they'd have done that as late as the 60's.

Dad said the berries don't get any size anymore because they need burned off. Dad said the burning was done in the early spring, and the huckleberries would grow back twice as thick that year. They used to burn off the huckleberries on Spruce Knob, too.

Furthermore, I've heard stories from my Granddaddy Don about how the huckleberry plains used to have good soil out on them, and there used to be quite a few farms out on there, but the place was logged in the early 1900's and a spark from the train set the brush on fire. Granddaddy said that the fire was so hot that it literally burnt the soil right down to the rocks, he said the fire burnt for over a week. That is what there isn't enough soil on Dolly Sods to grow any timber.


Granny Sue said...

I have heard that about the fire that burned away the topsoil--with the Wind up there I can imagine those flames burned a long time. I wonder why the brush fires didn't have the same effect, though? The man we talked to said that it was burning the huckleberry plains that made all the soil blow away. It sounded like folklore at the time, but after many years of doing this, it could be true. He said the ssettlers learned it from the Native Americans. I believe this man was a member of the Dahle family that the sods are named for. He said his family used to own a lot of land on the mountain at one time. I wish I had gotten his contact information; he said he comes back once a year to camp up there.

Matthew Burns said...

Granny Sue,

The smaller fires when the plains were burnt didn't have the fuel load as the fire that burnt after timbering since the fuel load then would have included split logs, tree tops and brush.

I'm kin to the Dolly's. Of course, I'm kin to nearly everybody in that area. One of my grandmother's was a Jordan (the family that Jordan Run is named after, which is currently the main access road to Dolly Sods).

If it was the periodic burning of the huckleberry plains that caused the loss of topsoil, how do you explain the huckleberry plains on Spruce Knob, which were burnt just as frequently, but that area still has most of its topsoil.


Granny Sue said...

Good point,Matthew. I'd like to pick berries this year if we cn get up there at the right time. There are a few places where the berries are big, I hear--where we picked before there were mostly little ones with a few bigger ones mixed in. But my they were good!

Matthew Burns said...

Granny Sue,

You usually get bigger berries (i.e. those not picked over) down the Huckleberry Trail on Spruce Knob than you do out on Dolly Sods. That has been my experience anyway.

Do you have a huckleberry picker?

Huckleberries also grow on top of North Mountain as do teaberries. MMMMMM. Most people neglect North Mountain when they think of huckleberries. Also, back in the late 90's there was a big forest fire up on North Mountain, and since then the berries have been thicker and bigger. Not saying the fire had anything to do with the size/abundance of the berries, I'm just saying......


Matthew Burns said...


A hucklberry picker is a handy dandy tool that is used to basically scrape the berries off the bushes. With a picker you can easily pick a gallon in under 20 minutes. The only drawback is you get ripe and unripe berries, and you will have to sort them when you get home. The huckleberry pickers that I've always seen are made of metal, but here is a website that sells plastic ones. Both the homemade metal ones and these plastic ones look nearly identical. Larry could make them, I'm sure.



Granny Sue said...

Thanks, Matthew! I googled them and saw what they look like. I think we could make one--I think I've seen them before somewhere, too. Maybe at an auction.

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog about our day at Dolly Sods made me miss you guys all over again! We did have a wonderful time. I think we should plan more "road trips"! So much fun--and so much laughter!

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