I noticed one of those inevitable little reminders of biological entropy a couple weeks back. I was sitting on the end of my bed, tying my shoes, and realized that the task had put me out of breath. I clearly needed to get more exercise.
But I’m lazy, and I need incentives to get out and run. Fortunately, I have one: Pinole Creek is about four blocks from our house. Half a mile down to the railroad tracks that lap San Pablo Bay, another half mile along a levee between those tracks and a seasonal wetland, then back and up the hill to home.
It’s not a huge distance, but it serves to put me out of breath. And late in the day, the creek is more than a place to run: it’s wildlife habitat. It’s developed, polluted, noisy and highly populated wildlife habitat, to be sure, but it will do. Pacific chorus frogs dodge the feral cats along the banks, shorebirds and ducks dabble the sticky estuarine mud, egrets and kingfishers stalk the occasional incautious three-spined stickleback, kestrels and gopher snakes contend for whatever rodents they can find.
The goal is exercise, but observation comes first. A week ago, Becky and I ran atop the levee. She was in front by about twenty feet — she usually is. Just as she passed, a gopher snake stuck its head shyly out from the fringing tall grass, then zipped across the dirt road toward the promised mice beyond. I stopped running. The snake’s path took it between my shoes, where it hugged my right heel and banked southward.
The next weekend, someone mowed a broad swath of the grass on either side of the levee. Sunday morning we found what was left of a gopher snake, cut in two by the blades. This one looked somewhat smaller than the one that used my shoe as a bumper. I hope my snake is still out there, unmown.