Being Safe in the Wild
or
Things That Will Get You if You Don't Watch Out

As my brother (*bling*) is demonstrating in the above photo, snakes are a real danger in our part of the world. Okay, so it is a harmelss green snake and he looks like he MIGHT be going to snack on it, but here are some ways to keep snakes from snacking on you:

Know where your feet are. If you can not see where you are about to put a foot, don't do it. This means avoiding brushy areas and stepping over rocks and logs on the trail. If you have to cross a downed tree or big rock, step up on it and look at the other side first. Carry a walking stick to poke into areas you can not see if you are out geocaching.

Copperheads decorate southern streams, so be aware while wading and swimming. There are rattlesnakes in this area, a family friend was bitten just a few miles from here by a rattler and my husband's father has shot more than one 6 footer in our yard-before my time. They are out there, be aware.

Remember this-a snake's first defense is avoidance. Given enough space, snakes will leave and chances are if you could project your vision ahead of yourself on the trail, you would be horrified at the parting of the reptile curtains that is occuring as you stroll up the trail and the previously basking legless wonders are skittling off for cover.

We have encountered dozens of snakes out on hikes and while camping and even in the yard. They get in flower pots that are left outside over the winter, they lay on the sidewalk in the sun, they bask in the shade when it's hot, they hide under the house. They do it at your house, too.

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I have bear saftey outlined in Camping in Bear Country
Don't forget in the Alabama we DO have bears! They are in the southern part of the state, in Little River Canyon and Talledega National Forest.

In Flint Creek, near Hartselle, there have been aligator sitings. I have no words of advice on those, I mean they have HUGE heads with big teeth, they roll you if they can get you and chances are, pure luck is all you will have going for you. I have read you should jab at their eyes and that is a good idea when anything with eyes is attacking you. I am mainly adding this for awareness sake because things with teeth in the water terrify me.

Bobcats are in the area as well, they are VERY shy and chances are a sighting will be a thrill and not a fight for your survival. If you are attacked, don't ball up and don't run, be as big and loud as you can. Wave sticks, jump up and down.

I have been attacked by an owl, my then 2-year-old 'saved' me by running into the house, grabbing a Nintendo controller and 'booming' it by pressing the fire button and yelling. It actually just sort of flew off acting embarassed that it thought a 5'6" VERY pregnant woman was a rabbit. I do not know of anyone else that has been approached by an owl. I have heard of Great Horned Owls snatching small dogs and cats, which I wish was a service you could purchase.

What else lurks in these woods? Rabbits, voles, squirrels, deer, groundhogs, armidillos...ah, skunks. Now a skunk will not spray if it can't get away, so your best bet is to just grab it and hold on. Then you should soak in tomato juice. hahaha. Really, a skunk will do a headstand before it does spray, so just run like mad when you see it and a caged skunk really will rarely spray because of the smell. Much like your spouse after spicy food, they like to leave an area once it has been fumed. Whether or not you leave is optional to them. Skunks probably giggle like mad upon recalling the look on your face, too.

If you get got by a skunk, there are odor neutralizers for the smell, you can buy a commercial version or mix your own, there are dozens of recipies, stick with the ones that involve baking soda.  The worst that will happen is your skin will blister or just be puffy.  The oil hurts, it burns and it does not just rinse off, either.  Do everything in your power, including ducking behind anyone taller than yourself to avoid getting hit in the face. Our dogs have been hit twice. Once it was the regular skunk smell and we all nearly died. The second time it smelled like burnt tires and roofing shingles and we longed for the mere skunk smell.

Fire ants are a terror. Keep Benedryl on-hand all year long because if you get bitten, it's going to itch like another -itch word for days before it crusts over, develops pus and then oozes and itches some more. Bites are the gift that just keep giving! To avoid them, simply stay indoors all year long, especially in the warmer months. When you DO have to venture out, wear long pants, thick socks on the OUTSIDE of your pants-those little suckers will just crawl until they hit flesh-and thick shoes.  A flame-thrower is not really overkill.  Most people react to the first 2-3 bites of the year and then just suffer through the itch of the rest of them. I get bitten every time I go out to mow or do yard work. By the end of summer, I just brush them off and keep going.

Fire ants do not respond to many poisons and things that sound fun and smart, like pouring gas down in the tunnels and burning them out don't work. Likely what will happen is fire will shoot out the other end of the tunnel, so just hope that is not under your house, car or anything else you rather like having. And the queen is too deep to reach that way, if you think pouring gas for 20 seconds into a hole that gets rained into for hours on end is going to magically penetrate the tunnels and passages enough to do more than kill a few ants too close to the opening, you should rethink that. Besides, pouring gas into the ground is not good for the ecosystem.

Bees, wasps, yellowjackets and bloodsucking conenoses are all out there as well. I am not making up the conenose, they HURT and the fun part about them is every time they sting you, it hurts more, sort of like interest payments. The good news is that not everyone reacts, sort of like mosquitoes. I seldom feel skeeter bites, but some people swell up and itch for days. I was 31 before I ever saw a conenose, and it stung me 3 times before Matt bashed it to death and I rolled up for a good long cry, pretty much ensuring I will never, ever get past my girlie instinct to overreact to any bug I do not know.

Your best bet for flying/stinging things is to know they are there, hopefully know how you and the people around you will respond to a sting and then prepare accordingly. In the early spring, as soon as it hits about 70 that first time, the new wasps are going to emerge from their chambers and fall and wobble around on the ground. They are easy to squash in this state and flush down the toilet.

Wasps contain a chemical that leaks out when you crush one and signals to other wasps that damage is being done, so never squash one outside once they are active, or you will have more angry stingers to deal with.  In that case, behead them with your library card to avoid crushing their abdomen.

In the early summer, the stinging insects are focused on love and home making. Later in the summer, they are interested in what you are wearing and that soda can in your hand. Trash cans at parks are an excellent place to get stung, and yellow jackets will crawl into your open can and then into your mouth when you take a swig. Drink water when outdoors or use a plastic cup with a replacable lid and no straw or self-closing water bottle.  Keep your kids informed about the dangers and keep an eye out for little ones, juice boxes are like enormous flowers filled with never-ending sweet nectar and many stinging insects will defend that supply.

There are various caterpillars that will sting the flooey out of you, too. Avoid any that are red or that have bristles or spiny parts. Not the fuzzy ones, just the kind that have spiky bristles. Packsaddles will sting you, even though they are really cool looking.

Fleas and ticks will attack you and your pets outdoors. Ticks are the worst danger, though fleas are harder to get rid of. Ticks can carry disease, wear long sleeves and legs, wear your socks on the outside of your pants and keep your head covered. Check pets and kids during and after hikes and remove ticks quickly, being certain to remove the head. Keep an eye on the site for swelling and infection. DEET products will deter ticks, just don't get it on your skin. Spray your socks (not your shoes in case it messes up the materials), a bandanna to wear on your head and do the same for your pet-a bandanna dosed with DEET will help them, too. Even if they have monthly treatments, the ticks will still get on them and even attach before being killed-and staying attached. The ones that crawl off your dog into your car or house just wait a bit until you are DEET free and get you anyway. Keep them at bay from the start. Besides, dogs look jaunty in a bandanna.

We have 2 dangerous spiders in the area as well, brown recluse and black widow.

That concludes the biggest fauna dangers, now for the flora.

Stinging nettle is easy to identify once you have been nailed a time or two.

Posion oak and ivy and sumac are nasty culprits, able to lurk on clothing for a full year to re-infect you if you brush against it. NEVER burn the plants to get rid of them, the oils will travel in the smoke and get in your eyes and mouth and all over your skin. If this happens to a younger child, you have set them up for a lifetime of severe reactions to the slightest contact. My husband was hospitalized for this very thing as a boy and now I can go for a walk in the woods and he can get a rash from hugging me when I get home. Direct contact for him involves oozing, pus, itching and crusty rashes that last for weeks. It is really gross.

To avoid contact, wear long pants and long shirts and gloves when working in a known area. Upon finishing your work, wash everything in hot soapy water with a little Tech-Nu in the laundry to get rid of the oils. If you already have a rash or know you have the oils on your skin, Tech-Nu will get rid of it, follow the directions on the bottle. We also keep a bar of Burt's Bees Posion Oak and Ivy soap in the cabinet for head-to-toe scrubbing after an accidental exposure. We did not have a single break-out all last year.  That $7 bar will last 3 summers, easily.

If you don't have Tech-nu, use Dawn or other dish soap that is touted to abolish grease-you want it to wash the oils off your skin and clothes. It works, too!
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I know the outdoors now must seem very scary, but nearly all of these plants and creatures can be found very near your home, if not right in your yard. Avoidance IS a great line of defense, but in your case, awareness works just as well. So grab some gear and head out!