I heard the hiss of steam. Yes, it was, steam — unmistakably.
A few footsteps further along the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, I heard it again. It was not my imagination. But there was nothing like steam-operated equipment for miles.
I stopped and listened. Again, the hiss. The sibilance was obscured by the drifting wind. A few moments later the wind subsided long enough to know the truth beneath the sound. The “hiss” was no hiss. It was rattling. “Rattling sound” translates to just one thing along a hiking trail in the eastern Appalachians. Rattlesnake.
Fortunately, the rattling was off-trail at a few yards distance, so I had no reason to worry. Besides, I carried my membership card in my shorts pocket — the membership card to the Adrenaline Club, which I earned during my first rattler encounter a few years before, while hiking in the Uwharrrie National Forest one spring morning.
Even so, that hissing “punched” my card, said my membership was up-to-date. VERY up to date.
I walked on.