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Snakes and mounds 

The Observer and his wife enjoyed an early evening walk one recent Thursday along one of the trails at Two Rivers Park.  Having had an especially productive day at the office, the culmination of the walk included a nice bottle of chardonnay, carefully packed with a little ice in a plastic freezer bag in my backpack. All we needed was a great place to enjoy it and that spot was at the point of the Little Maumelle opening up into the Arkansas River, complete with nice metal bench and Observation telescope. We enjoyed said bottle of wine with said wife urging us to finish, as dusk was approaching. Said wife is always the cautious type. Could it be that scary people come out then?

As we got back on the path, eagle-eye wife spotted the first obstacle on the way back to our car 400 yards away: a 2-foot copperhead coiled up on one side of the path. The Observer managed to skirt the beast with the confidence of libation, but in another 20 feet, there lay another copperhead. Another 30 feet, another copperhead.  

We counted about a dozen in a 100 yard stretch on that path. Seems like on cooler evenings, the little guys like to warm their bellies on the asphalt.

We wouldn't begrudge them that, but no more dusk walks for The Observer in that area for a while, wine or not.

The Observer, however, would like to stand up for snakes, especially since they can't do that on their own. Here's what we would like to say to those who slay every snake they see: Don't.

There was a snake at the park the other day, slithering along and minding its own business. It wasn't challenging anyone, but because of its kind, it was killed.

Copperheads aren't particularly friendly, and The Observer doesn't suggest trying to shake hands with one. But unless you find one in the nursery or threatening a child on the playground, leave it alone. Unless you are a snake expert, and few of us are, you might be killing any number of harmless snakes that pose a threat only to the vermin that otherwise you might find eating its way through your dog food bag and leaving its pellets in your china cabinet.

Our friend in the country does this: She gets these sticky sheets that nothing can escape and puts them in front of every door. She has, in fact, stopped a copperhead in its tracks this way. Had it avoided the sticky sheet and come into her bedroom, well, we say hack away.

But do us a favor and leave the king snakes and the hognose snakes and the garter snakes and the milk snakes (red on black, a friend of Jack) be. Leave 'em all be if you can, as long as they're not curled up in the bottom of your sleeping bag. It seems no one cares, but it's illegal to kill a snake that's not threatening you, even the venomous ones.

The Observer took Junior down to Toltec Mounds State Park below Scott a few weeks ago: just a short hop from Little Rock but a great leap back into the dim, pre-literate past of this state we love.

If you haven't been, go. For one thing, it's a free park now, meaning you can get through the gates for diddly squat (or at least for the price of a Toltec Mounds T-shirt if your kids hit the gift shop). For another, it's an amazing place, haunted by time: a complex that once contained 18 mounds, and which still contains the highest mound in Arkansas: Mound A, at 49 feet high. We can only really guess at its true purpose at the site, abandoned around 1050 A.D.

It's kind of awe-inspiring to linger there in the midst of those carefully-mown fields as big jets from the Little Rock airport drone high over the mounds, each earthwork created by basket after basket of dirt laboriously hauled in and dumped. Strange to think of a time when there was a bustling city there, full of contented people who'd never seen a horse or steel or even a pasty Anglo-Saxon like us.

The Observer loves places like that. Even though we're walking around with an honest-to-goodness computer in our pocket and live in a country that sent plain ol' human beings to walk on the moon, looking at the vast earthworks and thinking about the great, secondhand sweep of time still managed to make us feel small — still managed to make us feel like we don't know anything.

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