It was the sixth day of February. A warm front had pushed the temperature to 68 degrees, and I had shed my jacket.
Last month I had found a dead red-shouldered hawk -- reason unknown. For two weeks, the dead hawks mate had been flying over my land making a mournful sound. On this delightful morning, I realized that there were two red-shouldered hawks making the mating call. The lonely one had found another mate.
I was walking across a food plot, headed for a camera to change out the memory card. All the time I was gazing into the sky, looking at the two betrothed hawks. Ordinarily I would have been watching where I was walking, but this was winter time. In February, all the critters that bite, stick and sting are in hibernation. Really?
Suddenly there was a commotion around my feet. Something big, strong and slithering had wrapped around my left leg. Stopping abruptly, I realized that I had walked all over a huge snake. The reptile had a couple of coils around my ankle and was trying desperately to bite through my jeans.
My newly acquired pacemaker had to take over my pulse rate as I tried to be calm and access the situation. Having an interest in reptiles since childhood, I immediately recognized that the serpent was not poisonous. It was an eastern rat snake that I later measured at six-and-one-half feet long. The fact that I was not treading on a pit viper allowed me to maintain bladder control.
Reaching down, I quickly grasped the snake behind the head, but not exactly in the right place. My technique was so sloppy that it allowed the rat snake to bite me on the hand. More bladder problems.
Rat snakes are not venomous but the multiple rows of teeth in their mouths contain all kinds of bacteria that can cause an infection. I used half a bottle of peroxide in the cleaning process and so far, all is well.
The point of my story is -- all it takes is one careless moment. With all my decades of outdoor experience, including two venomous bites, I broke the cardinal rule of woods travel. Because it is still winter, I stopped looking where I was putting my feet and hands. Shucks -- thats how I got bitten the other two times.
Recently a friend told me, On the weekends I am so glad to get out of the city and off the highways -- back to the woods where I will be safe.
That is not necessarily true. When one is on the water or in the woods, being safety conscious is just as important as any other place. Add to that the fact that many of us go to the woods and water all alone -- not a good practice.
The outdoors offer me a refuge and I treasure that, but I am making a belated New Year resolution to be more careful in the future. I hope you do as well.
Emory Josey is a freelance writer who has a weekly column. Send questions for him to The Telegraph, P.O. Box 4167, Macon, Ga., 31208-4167, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org