Hidden Lake Horton and some of its shady characters

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

It was probably my calling to Dave that got the attention of a fisherman on the bank of Lake Horton. I was trying to keep my voice moderate, while avoiding the use of the word “snake,” lest I panic picnickers.

“Dave, come quick,” I called out. “Hurry.”

Anyway, by the time Dave caught up with me, so had the burly fisherfellow, carrying what I took to be a cane. The snake did not relish the attention and eased his long slim body (narrow, the poet says) through a pile of brown leaves under a low bush.

I stayed between snake and fisherfellow. I like snakes, especially in a chance encounter like this one, and I know most country folks do not. This sleek creature was not going to come to harm if I could help it.

But we had it backwards. The fisherfellow seemed disinclined to harm the snake and, in fact, began telling us how he had once watched a king snake dispatch and then swallow a rattlesnake much larger than himself. I began to understand that our mentor was afraid we were going to harm the king snake.

I wouldn’t bother repeating what our new acquaintance said, except that I looked up king snakes and discovered that the dinner party Fisherfellow had witnessed was exactly as described by Google sources.

The only piece that did not fit was his color. The snake’s color, I mean. They are typically banded with white rings circling a very dark body.

Ours was a light mocha with black or dark brown rings. A very narrow head and elegantly tapered tail finished off the glossy 48-inch body. The books agree that there are huge variations in the coloring of king snakes.

Our fisherfellow said king snakes are highly resistant to rattlesnake venom, and they borrow a trick from boa constrictors, wrapping their much thinner bodies around the rattler’s ribs until the big snake is immobilized by anoxia.

Then, said Fisherfellow, he watched the king snake dislocate his lower jaw and swallow the rattler whole. And alive. According to herpetologists, that’s exactly how they take their prey.

The snake encounter was one highlight of a lovely afternoon – but not what I had planned to write about today: The price of gas. On a stunningly beautiful Saturday, Dave took it into his head that we needed to drive the Jeep a few miles to, say, Lake Horton, where we had not visited since the park was completed.

Now you have to know that Dave had put the brakes on driving when gas prices topped $3, and we began going everywhere by golf cart, including choir practice that ends after dark.

I’m OK with that, but I confess I was not OK with turning a 10-mile excursion to 30 miles because neither of us remembered how to get to the lake, had a current map, and (most inexcusable) would not stop to ask directions.

A benefit to the meandering route we took, I want to emphasize, was the reminder that we live in a beautiful county. South Fayette is just what a still-rural county should look like, rose-banked fence rows, rich stands of trees, gently rolling fields, ponds for cattle to wade in.

When we finally found Lake Horton (who would think you could hide a 780-acre lake?) we were delighted to find that the county park on its banks has generous picnic pavilions, restrooms with warm water, gently sloping boat launches, and walking paths marked out for walkers who are measuring their progress.

The presence of a marshal’s car was reassuring, and indeed, with the park strict gating system, I don’t think after-hours hooligans are much of a problem.

We accounted for about 20 different bird species, although our watching with binoculars was very casual. Did see and hear are a yellow-breasted chat, not a real common species here.

Next time we come, I believe I’ll spend more time in a natural cathedral we found. Really. We wandered into a grove of massive trees (sweetgum, willow oak, and others) with trunks a good four feet in diameter at the ground. With undergrowth cleared from under the trees, and a couple of benches, the place drew us in. Almost without realizing it, we fell silent and heard a duet by bluebirds in the choir loft.

Then it came to us: These are climbing trees, adopted by serious climbers of trees, adults and children alike. One tree was adorned with wind chimes hanging at least 25 feet from the ground. Just sitting among them, watching and listening, no one else in sight, was a truly spiritual experience.

This is not tree climbing like Dave describes when he reminisces about his Florida childhood. After dark, he and a buddy used to drop overripe oranges on passing cars from the branch of a massive banyan tree leaning precipitously over the street. The boys stifled laughter as startled – and angry – drivers leaped out to see what had thumped the roof of their cars.

Today’s tree climbing as a group activity was inspired by the Outward Bound program in Atlanta 20-30 years ago, and focuses on safety for climbers and no harm to the tree. Abram Winters of Fayetteville founded the local “grove.” He teaches climbing, replete with ropes and tackle, building bodies and confidence. For more, look up TreeClimbingUSA.com, or call Winters at 770-461-6929.

login to post comments | Sallie Satterthwaite's blog