SWT: Excitement at finding the ‘narrow fellow’ in the grass

Grass snake. Picture: Darin Smith/SWT
Grass snake. Picture: Darin Smith/SWT

Snape Maltings, one of Suffolk’s most iconic and instantly recognisable buildings sits amidst ‘the boggy lands’. Snape in old English means a poor and marshy mire, and it was there in the boggy lands, that I set my traps.

You see, my visit to Snape Marshes wasn’t a spontaneous one. Indeed, I had planned several days in advance so as to maximise my chances of success. I had reccied all the prime basking spots; sought out the enticing pools of light spilling through dense reedy vegetation; I’d spied the south facing banks and dyke sides that I knew my cold blooded quarry favoured.

I knew that catching a glimpse of my prize had most often come via a chance encounter – a rustle in the undergrowth; the glimpse of a tail flicking its way into the long grass. I needed to optimise my chances. I carefully cut and placed my black tile sun traps in these favoured locations, securing them down. My hope was to entice the target of my plan from crevices and hollows. Then I retreated.

I waited. Several days passed and when conditions were perfect I returned to the scene. It was early; the last of the morning mists were burning off the Alde. The drumming of a spotted woodpecker resonated across the marsh from the woodland beyond. As I made my way along the dyke edges I disturbed a heron. Startled, it took flight; awkward, ungainly and distinctly prehistoric looking. Quickly it regained its majestic composure, rising and then falling again on the far river bank.

As I neared my previously set refuge tiles, I quietened my footsteps and began stalking. Crouching in the rushes I stretched out to reach the far end of the tile. Gripping the warm black felt I peeled back a corner. It took a moment to get my eye in. There was a large juicy black slug taking shelter from the dehydrating morning sun. Ants chaotically scrabbled over the surface of the tile and across the back of my hand.. then there in the centre of the withered grass, lay Nalix nalix.

I am instantly reminded of Emily Dickenson’s poem, A Narrow Fellow in the Grass, which describes her emotional response to coming across the ‘narrow fellow’. I feel excited, joyful but it is still there – a tinge of fear. The unfounded remnant of a childhood fear, imparted by my poor phobic mother.

I calm myself and begin to study her beautiful olive coils. She studies me back, her blue/black ever-flicking tongue tasting the air; for danger, for a meal. She has the most amazingly bright unblinking eyes and a creamy pale collar encircling her neck. I sit, still and quite, just watching with half held breath… several minutes pass. Slowly, slowly, effortlessly she begins to slink her body, unravelling to form a sinewy S-shape. She moves quite unlike any other creature. In fact if she wasn’t traveling from one place to the next, I’d swear she was motionless; such is the ease of her locomotion. She has tired of my disturbance and is leaving. “The grass divides as with a comb”. The last I catch of her, is her black streaked flanks disappearing into the verdance. She is gone.