Monday, December 20, 2010

Carrying The Snake To The Garden

In the cellar
was the smallest snake
I have ever seen.
It coiled itself
in a corner
and watched me
with eyes
like two little stars
set into coal,
and a tail
that quivered.
One step
of my foot
and it fled
like a running shoelace,
but a scoop of the wrist
and I had it
in my hand.
I was sorry
for the fear,
so I hurried
upstairs and out the kitchen door
to the warm grass
and the sunlight
and the garden.
It turned and turned
in my hand
but when I put it down
it didn't move.
I thought
it was going to flow
up my leg
and into my pocket.
I thought, for a moment,
as it lifted it's face,
it was going to sing.

And then it was gone.

We evolved to focus our attention on nonhuman animals - we were predators and we were prey. Somehow we dealt with this tension to bring other species into our communities to help feed us, keep us clothed, and provide transportation, work, and protection.  Somewhere in all that evolved circuitry I also imagine that we desired company.  This is such a tangled web today.  Our brain patterns say: flee, eat, befriend, love, capture, free, destroy, conserve.   So it is no wonder that animals capture our attention and are one of the top draws for news and entertainment, as well as for philosophical and language studies.

I perhaps appear very ratio national as I describe Mary's response to the snake, that she hears him/her sing.  I am far from consistent or clear on my response with animals, including snakes.

 I once was up in the high mountains of California in a hunting cabin one night.  I was the guest of a 5th generation California, a hunter and fisher, and spent the time there with him and all his similarly focused buddies. The conversation that night was "snake stories."  Each man, hardened and wise from endless miles of traversing the peaks, confessed to being afraid of snakes and gave examples of snake encounters. I thought, and forgive me, "what a bunch of pussies!"

The next day I was out fly fishing with a buddy.  He would fish one pool, and I the next.  I had just passed him and was going over a small rise to the next spot on the river when a rattler lifted her head right where I was to put my foot.  I threw my rod down (oh forgive me again ye gods of fishing), ran back to my friend, and threw myself in his arms.  Yes, I had now joined the ranks of the honest and the embarrassed.

I wrote this beginning piece well before the sun rose, as  I was out all day participating in the local Christmas Bird Count.  We "owled" an hour before sunrise and stood on a rise listening for Wood Cocks and hour after sunset.  This was a day of wonder, which included much walking in fields finding and indentifying sparrows.  We formed sparrow lines and walked in patterns to cover our territory.   In one such field, the man next to me cried out and jumped towards me.  He had put his foot down inches from a Water Moccasin.  Our line collapsed to gape at the snake, whose lifted head was all mouth agape, ready to defend if necessary through teeth and toxins. 

In that fearful, focused awestruck moment while sparrows sang, we joined with them, singing the same song, the first song, and the only song. 

What song do you hear when you fear something or someone?

1 comment:

  1. I just had this poem for my homework when I read the title the other day really quick I thought it was boring but then today I went over it and I actually liked the poem.

    SWAG ( my initials)