This story is part of Grist’s Summer Dreams Art and Culture series, which is a week-long exploration of how popular fiction affects our environmental reality.

It is believed that the snake found in the park is a black mamba. Who knows how a reptile that usually makes homes in sub-Saharan Africa glides to the east end of Pittsburgh-or why it made that special trek-but it was there, wrapped in a beech tree in April In the middle of Frick Park.

Of course, everyone in the neighborhood lost their minds. A venomous snake is there, where people are jogging and taking their unsuspecting Labrador and terriers for a walk? Call the police when you see this, People posted on Facebook, and sure enough, someone did.A local news station Gave a kitchen knife(“This is not a garden snake-look at this thing!” said a skeptical anchor.) The public security department issued a citywide alert.

But those who were more familiar with the ecosystem, those who knew their non-human neighbors, were stunned. police? For what? That thing is a rat snake. One is big, but sometimes they get that big—six, seven, or even eight feet long! Native to the eastern United States, long before the first indigenous people set foot on this land, long before the first rock in Fort Pitt was erected or the first coal rock was dug out from the ground, the residents of Appalachia Is already a resident of Appalachia. There is no poison, no danger, and of course no anachronism.

“These are very docile and fragile animals,” explained Chris Urban, head of natural diversity at the Pennsylvania Fish and Ship Commission. “I hope someone in the police force knows what it is, it’s not dangerous, etc. I don’t even know what the fate of this snake is, but I try to calm these fears quickly because it’s just an eastern rat snake, not A harmful animal.”

Stephen Durbin, a biologist at the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh, said a naturalist who lives on the border of the park actually recognized the snake in a decoy post on Facebook. “Pete said to me,’I’ve seen that snake many times in that tree over the years. If something happens to that snake, it would be a shame, because some people think it’s in a place where it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t belong to its home,'” Durbin said.

When growing up, urban children think that urban reptiles are weird to some extent. For example, my generation has the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a group of turtles that have been transformed by extraterrestrial material “mutagers”, and all their terrifying friends and enemies: Mondo Gecko, a skateboard lizard; punk frogs, that’s exactly what they sound like. Look like; and Leatherhead, the sewer crocodile, I am most interested.

He is a true tragic character, Leatherhead, who has been misunderstood by both humans and turtles. Escaped from a pet shop, and then turned into a burly, highly reactive mutant by the alien, with uncontrollable anger problems. When an accident separated him from the aliens who he believed to be his family, he retreated to the safety of the sewer. However, the tired Leatherhead did not rest because he was chased by a large prey hunter who was eager to get his skin. This is how he finally teamed up with the Turtles. The Turtles showed him how to build a quiet and safe home in the sewer, which is what he always wanted.

The crocodile legend in the sewers of northern cities is about a century Specious origin story It was the city dwellers in the early 1900s who ordered alligator cubs by mail, or brought them back as souvenirs from trips in Florida and the Bay Area, and then washed them off when they began to grow in manageable small sizes or Loose them. Over the years, few crocodiles have actually been found in sewer systems or local watersheds, but the power of images keeps the story alive. An example from Westchester County, New York in 1932, such as Small invention, The children ran to the police to let them know that there were many crocodiles in the local river. “The bodies they brought used to be Esther Inglis-Arkell of Gizmodo wrote. “It turns out that the wild crocodiles that strangle the river are snakes and lizards mixed with children’s imagination.”

After all, it’s kind of exciting to think of a huge beast hovering a few feet below the sidewalk you are walking on, or floating under the surface of a city waterway.Have Whole site Dedicated to the myth of sewer crocodiles (unfortunately, its founder declined to be interviewed).

“There is a strange relationship between urban legend and truth: when telling it, it is implied that a legend reflects the fact in some way, no matter how extraordinary the elements in the legend are,” The folklorist Bonnie Taylor-Blake wroteThe fact is that we do share the most artificial habitat with all kinds of wild animals, but they are not exotic. They have been here.

I saw this snake for the first time a few years before the police chased it-on Instagram-I couldn’t believe it. My friend Pat took a picture of it. It was huge and dark. It was hanging from a tree while walking the dog on a path in Frick Park. It took a while, especially on a small screen, to distinguish the snake from its bare branches in winter. They were almost the same color.

Pat and I were both born and raised near Point Breeze. Our childhoods played under the forest canopy in that park. Our adolescence drank under it. We can share this seemingly safe space with real life. Snakes are better than mine. The whole body is still long, as thick as my thighs, which is beyond my ability to understand.

Frick Park is a wild place. It is not Central, Millennium or Golden Gate. It is a forest in the center of the city, surrounded by old steel baron mansions and quiet residential streets. It is full of the types of wild animals you see in the paintings of Hudson College, chipmunks, marmots, deer and eagles, and occasionally black or brown bears pass awkwardly.This snake looks like it escaped from the scene python, Like an Amazon predator lost in Appalachia.

Beautiful tall trees in yellow, red and orange stand on the bike path with riders on them
On a sunny autumn day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a biker is on a trail in Frick Park.
Altham/Getty Images

I must see with my own eyes. That snake became my personal “Moby Dick”. I found more evidence on Instagram: a photo taken by a mountain biker, when an identical snake slipped into the dirt road in front of him. I wandered around in the park looking for it, and I brought my old friends, boyfriends and my parents to help me find it. For four years, I have never succeeded, and I had not heard of this snake from others until I saw it on the local news earlier this year.

But snakes are inherently elusive, and they are good at acting in situations where humans have not found them.David Steen, an ecologist and head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute, built A lot of Twitter follow By responding to thousands of requests for the identification of snakes and other information about them.One of the most common problems he got was solved in his book Snake’s secret, “Why is this a bad year for snakes?”

“Generally, when people ask this question, they see a lot of snakes,” he told me on the phone. “For me, a bad year is a year I can’t see.” However, the increase in snake tracks does not mean that there are more snakes in the area than before. This may simply mean that people are more aware of their presence, so they are looking for them and reporting sightings.

People are usually afraid of snakes, and this fear often leads us to hurt them-so much so that if we see them being entangled by the asphalt road, we will deviate from the road and hit them with our car, as shown in the picture. Rubber serpentine bait experimentThis fear is related to a myth that has been passed down for generations. Snakes carry some malice, a desire to attack humans.

“I like to remind people that snakes are just small animals,” Steen said. “Fighting with you will not do them any good. They just want to do their own thing. I want people to realize that even in these relatively urban areas, wild animals are around. I think it’s very special.”

In addition to public attacks, one of the greater threats humans pose to snakes is habitat loss. A new development project, by clearing and building bushes, will drive any snakes living on this land to more forested areas nearby. (If they end up on the road looking for shelter in some trees and bushes, God will help them.) But usually the sheltered areas overgrown with weeds are home to humans and their unfounded fears.

A healthy rat, like the one found in Frick Park, is a sign of the prosperity of the ecosystem-the term certainly does not always apply to historically polluted Pittsburgh. This means that the trees are luxuriant, and mice, chipmunks and rabbits make their homes in their cavities.

It is not a mutant or monster. It is not malicious to you or me. It is just trying to build a home that will not be disturbed. For a long time, this area has been so unfriendly to so many different kinds of life that we can’t even recognize our own neighbors-we think they are invaders, who come to wreak havoc on our civilized homeland.

I hope that one day, when I walk under the trees in Frick Park, the snake will appear in front of me, but if he doesn’t, I will understand. He has good reason to be afraid of me.

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