BioBlitz Poetic Inventory: Garter Snake

While volunteers and researchers record the science of the many species found at this year’s BioBlitz, writers across Colorado are putting down a record of their own as well.

This series of posts presents a brief selection from the full “Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park” to be published by Colorado’s own Wolverine Farm Publishing.

Rocks, trees, and water create the backdrop and home for the many species of the park. Photo courtesy Your Shot.


Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans)

& Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)

“Clade, Landscape with Thamnophis elegans vagrans, Contopus sordidulus, and Homo sapiens sapiens” by Jake Adam York


The rock is moving,

schist, granite, shale


raised up, folded, etched,


moved by ice

and wind, by water, and


by rain, brought down,

washed back to the craton,


to rivers, to the sea.


And here, the rock is moving

like a braided stream,


light bands in dark, diffracted

sun, the rippling


grains, and here


the rock is moving,


felsic bands

twisting free


from the mafic, elegant,

vertebrate, almost




another kind of iron


that quickens you,

that eases one leg back


before you read the marks right,

garter, not rattler,


moving slow from bush

to brush in the slow morning air


that stills you, too,


the chill darting into the sun

for you, your movement


like the day’s first flycatcher,


the pewee rising


from its dusk into light

and falling back again


to wait for its hunger’s next slake.


Here, we are

the isopleths of night’s

feathering into day, of day’s


into night, into skin and skull and blood,


one of us

without feet, vagrant if terrestrial,


and one with feet so small

it cannot walk upon the ground,


and one, always

walking up and down, always


between these worlds.


How long, my subtle brother,


how long, little tyrant,


since we curled the same


spine, since this hunger


was one, this day,


this blood that moves in us,


that moves us like rock,


raising us up,


and pulling us apart again?

Used with permission from A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park / Wolverine Farm Publishing.


More in This Series

BioBlitz Poetic Inventory: Wood Frog

BioBlitz Poetic Inventory: Black Bear

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.