Watch My Step
On a recent sunny Spring morning I walked comfortably along the yellowish-brown path of a meadow trail. I thought I saw a snake stretched calmly across my path. The trail ground cover and snake were much the same texture and color. I removed my sunglasses, moved closer, and looked directly at whatever it was.
Sure enough, a three-to-four-foot-long Texas rattlesnake, one of our ten species, was calmly holding its head up and making eye contact. It was not coiled-up or making threatening rattle noises. I noticed its tongue sensing the air. Otherwise, it was motionless.
I decided the snake was probably a female, not that I could tell. I’ve always had better luck with female mammals, why not reptiles? It’s difficult to determine a snake’s sex unless you are an expert, a snake, or have a sexing kit. They cost about $70, if you have a need to know and are willing to get more up close and personal with snakes than most folks are, be my guest. That optimistic conclusion helped to keep me calm.
However, I was shocked when the snake spoke to me. She said, “Please, don’t make me move. It’s early and I’m still cold.”
I stepped back and looked around. I tried to speak but I only stammered stupid nothings. I wasn’t afraid and thought it might be a trick. Imagine speaking to any animal. My skepticism must have showed.
“Oh, please,” she hissed, “everyone knows snakes talk. The Bible? Eve? Don’t make me do that bite thing. Humans taste like soap. We don’t like doing that.”
No way! A talking snake. Unbelievable (except biblically).
I hoped no one would hear me, “So, what is your name? What should I call you?
She seemed to smile, “Call me Metaphor. We don’t use names. But, since I’m blocking your progress for a while, it’s apropos, don’t you think? What is your name?”
Holy shit. A philosophical, talking rattlesnake.
“I’m Bill. Do you want me to leave?”
She answered, “Not really. If you’re uncomfortable, walk around me and get on with your life. I’ll do the same. If someone else comes by, it may not go this well. But if you have a few minutes, let’s talk. Think of it as a game.”
Good grief. A fucking philosophical, bible-wise, talking lady-snake who wants to play mind games with me.
She seemed to like me. Other than Eve, who has ever encountered a talking animal? Ok, maybe the fish in that Hemmingway book. Wait. No, never mind. Now that I think about it, talking animals are everywhere in literature, TV, and movies. I couldn’t just up and leave without regrets.
She asked, “Which do you fear more, other humans, aggressively growling dogs, or snakes?”
I admitted it. Snakes scare me. “No dog has bitten me since childhood. People seem safe enough.”
“Why is that?” she asked, “Have you ever been harmed by a snake?”
I could see where her ‘game’ was headed. “I don’t know why. That is how it is with most people. No. I’ve never been harmed by a snake.”
She asked, “Has any human being ever harmed you in any way?”
“Of course.” I said, “Many times. We’re not very kind to each other. Humans have harmed me or threatened to do so.”
Then she asked, “Of the three, you fear least your own species even though they are the ones who have harmed you most?”
“That’s true. But most people seem harmless. I feel safe, most of the time.”
“How many people in your life have been killed by dogs?” she asked.
I replied, “Certain breeds and certain dogs can be dangerous. Most animal pets are innocuous, including pet snakes.”
“That’s my point, Bill. Some dogs, people, and snakes are dangerous. But everyone and everything is not out to get you. I can tell you are not worried about me, nor need I be concerned about you. It’s called discernment. You do that with people and dogs. Try it with snakes. Now we both better get going before someone comes. I enjoyed our little game. Goodbye, Bill.”
We maintained eye contact as I walked around her, getting no closer than she was long. I turned and walked away. It’s always best to let nature, dogs, snakes, and other people do the talking. When I listen, I learn.
Look both ways crossing meadows and encountering other beings in life.
Mind the gaps and learn your lessons well.