Went out today with a couple of people to Pennyfield Lock. I went to this one a couple of times last year. Last year I saw a raccoon playing in the water all by himself, unaware that he was being watched. Also it's where I sat down on the edge of the canal one day and heard "plop!" and looked and saw a snake swimming away, so I moved away a few feet myself, sat down again and heard "plop!" again and damn if it wasn't another snake. So then I sort of went off the idea of sitting there, for some reason.
Today I painted on the grass, next to the haunted house, looking across the lock itself at the lock house. It was not much of a painting but what a perfect day! Anyway this old couple in very professional-looking riding gear came up the tow path and dropped their bikes just right at the lock, where the grass was green and there's a bit of shade from this fine old tree. They asked if they were in my way and I assured them they weren't. They settled down to have a picnic or something, I don't know, I wasn't studying them, as they say in St. Kitts. Except periodically I would hear these exclamations, just sort of squawks and "oh my god! Look at the size of that one! And there's another one!" coming from the direction of the two cyclists and I became aware that people were stopping to look at something over near where they were sitting. At last the cyclists seemed to change their minds about the picnic. As they moved away, the wife shouted, "Too many snakes," at me. And I shouted back that no, it was hard to be comfortable if there was a snake sitting next to you -- or something equally polite and fatuous.
My dad showed up a little later, as part of my secret program to get him and his dog to go out on dates. (I had Sweetie with me and she was as good as gold, she earned a medal today.) So I said, "Let's go look at the snakes," thinking, "Well, how many snakes."
Well, it turned out to be a lot of snakes. The rock wall of the downstream gate of the lock, on the sunny side, was snake headquarters. They were sunning themselves. The temperature was in the high 60s, it must have been utter bliss to be a snake on those rocks, they were just basking. Big ones, little ones, mating pairs. It wasn't so much that they were arriving as that they were emerging into sight, like your eyes getting accustomed to darkness. It took a minute or two and then you realized they were all over the place, they kept appearing like the hidden objects in a pubble among the rocks.
The dogs regard all reptiles with deep suspicion. The smell of one snake was enough to determine Misha that the car was the place where we should all be. She kept trying to drag my dad there, which put him all out of temper.
They were either water snakes or Northern Brown Snakes. I suppose water snakes get out of the water once in a while.
Also saw this incredibly colored bird, bright bright red body that made a cardinal's coloring seem rather subdued), with wings, gives the impression of wearing a loud vest. Well, I had just given up on one painting and was getting ready to start the second one when this man came over and asked to see what I was doing. "I've got nothing to show you," I said. "I just tossed one and I'm about to start again." He was kinda cute, and I was enjoying myself hugely at this point so I didn't care who bothered me. So he petted Sweetie who took rather a liking to him and did her whole gazing-tenderly-into-his-face routine. "Well at least I get to meet your dog," he said, I said, "She seems to think you're fabulous." "Maybe she's right," he said, and all I could think of to say was, "Well, she's a cheap date, you know." but lacking that much courage I told some long story about how she used to be shy but had learned to like people. I noticed his binoculars and asked if he'd been birding. Yes he had so I asked him about this splendid bird and he said it was a scarlet tanager. Then off he went to the parking lot and I thought "Well, you managed that brilliantly." Thus two ships passed in the night.