Three Times A Serpent

Moving and stacking the last of the firewood yesterday, I disturb a garter snake three times. Same snake, or three different snakes? It’s there, perhaps, to feed on the fat black crickets that have congregated in the same spaces between the logs and pop away each time I lift another piece and toss it into the wheelbarrow. Or maybe it seeks rough edges to begin another peel, an autumnal sloughing off of old skin.

The three-ness of its appearances alerts me. I’m ready to pause and straighten my back and consider. Small moment-in-passing for snake and human, but wordlessly the snake has gathered my attention. Most of my days offer small moments like this, choices about where I’ll spend my energies beyond the daily necessary. Enough of them working together can define a larger trajectory, a disposition. Right now, though, I’m just attending to 18 inches of trim liquid muscle embossed with muddy green and yellow stripes, breathing lightly and slowly enough I can barely detect a small set of lungs working.

Except for one or two counties in the north part of the state where you can still rouse a rattler or maybe a water moccassin, Vermont has no poisonous snakes, so I’m at my leisure to ponder this one, or these three, up close. They’re sluggish with cooler evenings now, though the temperature still rises most days to the 80s. It takes a toe to prod this one off its perch on a piece of wood, coils oozing into a flow of motion. Sometimes being legless looks like an excellent choice for a species to make. No flailing limbs, just the slim body looping effortlessly behind the head until the whole marvel has poured itself out of sight.

Please understand — I share the common primate reaction to snakes. We yield, often enough, to that little shiver of distaste. But each time snakes usually stop me long enough to examine that response, and if I’m fair to the experience and question it, I find I end up pairing it with something like amazement. Warm and furry, bright-eyed and responsive to human presence — that’s a no-brainer: we easily go soft and mushy, and can lay a good half of our reaction at the feet of Disney and a whole industry of cuteness. Snakes are more alien, wonderfully adapted to their niches in the world, but changed enough from the ubiquitous mammal design we instinctively prefer that they provoke that involuntary shiver. Add to that the touch of cool skin against warm, if you pick up a harmless one to handle, the feel of it like a plastic raincoat.

So, snake, I’ll use what you left for me and ask a question. What do I welcome, what do I fear to touch, out of all I may meet each day? I add a tentative beginning practice of snake-shifting, gliding legless through my choices and meetings and discoveries, to see and smell, taste and feel what is there. Then return and judge, if I must, all I want. But first, encounter.



Posted 26 August 2016 by adruidway in Druidry

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