Marty’s photo of the day #1767: It’s “CC, HP: ESC Month,” featuring photos and excerpts from my first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents. Today’s photo is from Queensland, Australia, and the below excerpt from my book tells the story of the shot:
Eventually Chris uttered the words I didn’t want to hear: “Marty, I’m sorry, but we have to head back to the truck. My family expected me home a long time ago. If I don’t return soon, they’ll think something happened to us.”
“I understand. I’m bummed—but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Come back during the rainy season. I guarantee we’ll find a python then.”
“You have a deal. And thanks for trying. I know you stayed out much longer than scheduled.”
“No worries. I wanted to stay out. I’m just as frustrated as you are.”
“I’m totally lost. How far are we from the truck?”
“We’re about five minutes away. It’s just up this trail.”
Suddenly I felt exhausted. The intensity of the hunt had kept me going. Now, I trudged along behind Chris—beat.
What happened next is still a blur to me. If we were watching ancient Greek theater, we’d call it “deus ex machina,” if we were watching a football game, we’d call it “a completed Hail Mary pass,” if we were watching The Crocodile Hunter, we’d call it “a typical show ending.” All I know is that I was sweeping my flashlight alongside the path, hoping for a miracle, when Chris bobbed behind a fallen tree and emerged with an amethystine python!
“Marty! Look what I found!”
“Oh . . . my . . . God! He’s huge!”
Chris stood with the snake’s head clutched in his hand, its body wrapped several times around his arm, and its tail looped over his shoulders.
“Several months ago I saw a python behind the same tree. I had a hunch he might be back—and there he was.”
“Do you really think it’s the same snake?”
“He’s about the same size, but there’s no way to know for sure.”
“How long do you think he is?”
“A little over two meters. Do you wanna hold him?”
“You know I do. But first let me take some pictures of you with the snake.”
Up until now, shooting photos in the dark had been a two-person operation. Without Chris to shine his spotlight where I wanted to focus the camera, I had to aim my flashlight with one hand and my camera with the other. The process was awkward, but it worked.
The next maneuver, however, would be significantly more difficult. To transfer the python, I’d have to grasp its head while Chris simultaneously released it, and then we’d have to work together to uncoil its body and tail.
“Whatever you do,” said Chris, “don’t let the snake bite you. A python this large won’t let go—we’d be here all night trying to dislodge it.”
As we positioned ourselves for the handoff, we realized our predicament and laughed. We needed all our hands for the python, but unless one of us held a light, we couldn’t see what we were doing. Ultimately we completed the transfer with moves worthy of a contortionist and my flashlight wedged between my feet.
Once I had control of the python, I was surprised how strong he was. He had wrapped himself so tightly around my arm that my fingers began to tingle from lack of circulation.
“Look how purple your hand is!” said Chris.
“I know. Imagine what it would look like if he really wanted to squeeze.”
Pythons are constrictors closely related to boas. The main difference is that pythons lay eggs, and boas (with one disputed exception) bear live young. The python I was holding wasn’t squeezing me as if I were prey, however; he was just tense from the abrupt change of circumstances and likely waiting for an opportunity to sink his teeth into me.
He began to relax once he realized I wasn’t going to hurt him. In fact, while Chris snapped photos with my camera, I was able to release the snake’s head without having to fend off a bite attempt.
“Well, mate, we better go.”
“Thank you, Chris. This has been a fantastic night.”
“No worries. I’m just glad we had success.”
I set the python down and watched him glide along the forest floor. “Now that he’s stretched out, I’d guess he’s seven feet long. What do you think?”
“I’d say seven and a half feet.”
“Okay, we’ll go with that. Now, if I come back in the rainy season, you’ll show me where the twenty-footers are hiding—right?”
“I can’t guarantee a specific size. But we will find some big ones.”
“You know, in retrospect, I think tonight’s python was closer to twelve feet long.”
“Oh, I’d say at least fifteen. . . .”