After I took his picture, the snake booked.
Not a surprising outcome, you might be thinking. But I had spotted drops of blood on his shining ecru underbelly. And he was looped into such an intricate curlicue–of shock? of self-defense?–that I wasn’t sure he wasn’t mortally injured. After all, it was Tiger who had brought him to me–my fat
lovely gray tabby. Blinking his great greeny-gold eyes, he carried the trophy toward me as if to say, “What? This? This old thing? It’s nothing. I don’t need it. It’s just for you.”
Tiger dropped the snake on the path, heedless as a 15-year-old boy with a bouquet of flowers. To keep him from pouncing once again, I leaped to rub him, praise him. “Tiger, my beauty, what a good boy! Such a good boy!” He blinked some more, hugely content, vastly pleased to be so lavished; he suffered me to pick him up, take him into the house, feed him so that he might be dissuaded from further snake-taking adventures…
Returning to the scene of the crime, I nourished a flicker of hope that the snake might have saved me the trouble of trying to rescue it. But that hope was dashed by the Victorian curlicue made of living scales and skin, tensile muscle and bone, that lay waiting for me right where it had been dropped.
A small thing it was. No thicker than my ring finger–no more than a foot in length. But its intelligent eyes, widening as it spotted me and reared back in reaction, somehow daunted me. Vague intimations of rattler… but no, its tail was a tail–there was no rattle there, nor venom sacs on its cheeks. A corn snake?
Shaken, I turned to scour the yard for some thing or things to remove him. Mind, the drama so far had taken no more than 10 minutes. The rest of the act–finding a flat shovel at the eastern extremity of the yard, rejecting a couple of other tools for a long-handled whisk broom at the northern extremity, and then returning to the scene of the crime to scoop of said victim and find a hiding place–was to take no more than another five..
So 15 minutes tops. But it was 15 minutes of angst and self-flagellation. of brooding over the pin pricks of blood on his belly. Of whipping up nightmare scenarios of my hare-brained “rescue” operation … Until it finally dawned on me that this snake, over which I was lacerating my heart, “didn’t know any different or expect any better.” It was a snake … not cursed with cognition. So this wallow in the mud bath of emotion–wasn’t it just … all about me–and not this animal’s sufferings? I took a deep breath and tried to steady down.
Moments later I rounded the north corner of the house, shovel and broom in hand, headed into the sun and the west corner where the injured snake had been so unceremoniously dropped…
… to find it (blessedly!) gone
… and myself struggling with an unexpected welter of reactions.
Allow me to zig instead of zag for just a moment: For the past two days, we’ve had beautiful and unusually springlike weather.
Yes, I’m aware that springlike weather is what one expects on April 7th, but consider: March roared in with a winter storm on the 6th and slapped us on the way out with another snowfall on the 25th. Three days ago, my evening commute was made miserable by another snow shower. And it’s been cold. The coldest spring I can remember in many a year in central Virginia.
Then came Friday, Saturday, and today: picture perfect spring days. Highs in the 70s, bright sun, and so beautiful that I’ve spent every free moment cleaning up a winter’s worth of detritus and debris from my lovely (but wholly neglected since the cold set in) meditation space and rearranging lawn furniture in the rest of the front yard.
It’s been so much fun, I started creating tableaux … OK, yard art.
But as Tiger reminded me today, the yard insists on being not about art but about life, unruly life, bursting all around me.
I looked at the empty spot where, minutes before, I had taken the picture of the snake and met its uncanny eyes. It was, of course, empty of movement. I stared at the layer of chips covering the garden path and found them, oddly, snake-colored. The same with the stack of firewood we’re neatly stockpiling against the day when we can complete our firepit. Snake-colored. As were the stones in the wall we built to correct the slope across the front yard, even the soil around the plants in the flower beds. All the color of snake.
And again, my lizard brain stirred, and I felt afraid.
Today in the garden, the sun emblazons the pansies, and their reds and rusts and blues and golds riot among tulip leaves all the more rampant because their bloom has been stalled by persistent cold. Today, I can see seedlings sprouting–peas and poppies and red mustards and marigolds: life. The robin song, too, and the pealing chirrups and chawps and chips of the rest of the mating birds are signs of life, too. And the crawling life, I encountered today–all 12 inches of it–that was new life, too.
It was a garter snake by the way. And yes, those dark eyes made me tremble.