Facing my fear at Burnt Pines

By Amanda Moss

April 25, 2014

Before I even begin this, I must admit that I am not an outdoors kind of girl.

Growing up I was always more interested in staying inside with my books. That doesn’t mean I never enjoyed going outside and playing on a beautiful day, it just was never my first choice as a kid.

Living in Boone during my college years though offered many opportunities to get on my feet and see how beautiful and diverse nature could be. It was mountain country and it was gorgeous, but I never knew such a thing could exist here in Richmond County.

Leaving Rockingham for Burnt Pines near Ellerbe to visit retired North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Biologist Terry Sharpe showed me the massive amounts of land that exists right here in the county. The land, his family’s plot, he showed me was just recently given to The LandTrust for Central North Carolina in a conservation easement and its untouched beauty took my breath away. Granted it is a different kind of beauty than what I saw in Boone, but still striking. This is an opportunity that I would have never received had I not been working as a journalist.

Now as I said before, I am not an outdoors girl, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the steep hills that I encountered. It might have helped matters if I had worn some better footwear, but I managed it after some doubtful moments (the fear of falling is a legitimate fear) and some encouragement from Mr. Sharpe. And I was very glad I did.

I was able to see so many flowers and plants as they prepared to bloom. I even was able to eat a couple of plants that tasted very similar to broccoli — luckily I’m a huge fan of the vegetable. Blue birds and chickadee birds flew around me and I even learned that there are bird calls available as applications on your phone. The funny thing is that the birds actually did respond to the calls that were being played. It was something I never expected.

Probably the most memorable thing about my experience was the two snakes that I came very close to — a timber rattlesnake and a king snake. At the first mention that these two snakes were on the property, I immediately was unsure if I wanted to just stay behind as Mr. Sharpe and Crystal Cockman, associate director for LandTrust, went on in search for the snakes. Instead I decided to face one of my fears and join in the quest.

When Mr. Sharpe finally lifted the metal that covered the rattlesnake I almost immediately froze. I probably was around 15 feet away with no desire to move closer, but when I saw it just sitting there I decided to slowly approach it, snapping a few pictures along the way. I was able to get about 6 feet away from the snake, but wouldn’t go any further than that. The long-range lens that I had on the camera I was using made things easier, but I was surprised that I didn’t stay frozen the entire time.

Crystal definitely got in a good laugh at how shocked I was not to be savagely bitten by a poisonous snake. Honestly, I think the snake was more irritated that we interrupted its nap time. Still though, I wouldn’t recommend braving that alone. Mr. Sharpe knew what he was doing, and it is always best to be cautious, but it was pretty cool that I got to see a rattlesnake up close and personal.