First off, I got an iPhone on Friday, and I love it. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty impressed. (I know…that doesn’t take much.) It’s just…um…smooth and easy. The screen is amazing, and I am loving the full web browser. And the camera was way better than I expected. Nice.

So yesterday, when we spur-of-the-moment decided to go for an afternoon hike on the Appalachian Trail, I threw the iPhone in the pack. I know purists will decry the mixing of technology and trees, and to be honest, I didn’t tell Wendy that I brought it. But I’m glad I did.

We were nearing the top when another hiker and his dog appeared coming down the trail. Suddenly, his dog stopped short and started growling at the bushes. The hiker said, “Whoa! Check this out.” Of course, my kids started running over there, until they heard him say “It’s a black racer snake.” They screeched to a halt until we slowly walked over and saw this beautiful, long, black snake slithering through the underbrush. “Is it poisonous?” my daughter asked. The hiker didn’t think so, and I surely had no clue. So we kept our distance and watched a bit longer as it gracefully moved further into the stand of wild blueberry bushes.

I sat down on a rock overlooking the Delaware Water Gap, buzzards and hawks catching thermals and spiraling up right in front. And I reached into my backpack and pulled out the iPhone. Within a couple of minutes, I was reading about black racer snakes on Wikipedia. Nope, not venomous. They eat crickets, moths and small rodents. And they are fast. Tess and Tucker took turns looking for other pictures, and we pretty much confirmed what we had seen. We were learning on the fly. And then, we zoomed in on where we found it using the satellite feature on Google Maps which the iPhone makes really easy.

I, for one, think that’s pretty cool. We’ve seen stuff on other hikes and said that we were going to go back and “look it up” but, as often happens, we never did. The immediacy of this was what was cool. The fact that we wanted to know now, and we could. I know you don’t need an iPhone for that. No doubt, we coulda brought the trail book that identifies a lot of the things we saw. But this gave me an interesting feeling all around. And what it made me really yearn for was to have my kids chronicle their find at the Encyclopedia of Life, when it comes into full use.

Now that would really be cool.

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