i saved a snake today (well, actually yesterday). he was trapped in fine plastic meshing used to discourage birds from “stealing” berries from the trees, although i must wonder if the birds really understand the concept of “stealing” what is freely grown in their open world. it is the human that places the boundaries that separate the birds from their natural food source, not them.
but, i digress...
back to the snake in trouble. the gardener left the extra black netting on the ground under the open deck - it was almost invisible until the poor creature slithered into the tangled tiny mesh. once in, the mesh caught on the scaley covering of the creature and became firmly locked around his body. all he could do was go forward into the unknown.
as he pushed forward to try to disentangle himself from his now unwise choice, he found that the mesh was ever more convoluted, leaving him with fewer and few options but to push forward to try to find an exit at the other end of his journey.
sadly, this was a deadly course with no independent means of escape. unless outside forces came to his rescue, this poor snake would surely die as the mesh became further and further embedded under his scales with each movement and eventually, he would be unable to do anything but lie and wait for death’s hand to release him.
to some extent, he had already accepted that fate. when my friend first saw him, she was distressed - was he poisonous? was he a rattler? would he bite her dog in his painful attempt to live? where was her husband - he could come and kill this unwanted intruder!
as she came upstairs to tell us of the snake’s plight and her desire to be rid of him, i asked where she found him and told her to wait - i’d release him.
again, her fear that he was a rattler or another poisonous snake surfaced. until we could see his head, we could not determine his “nature” - but, one thing i knew, he was no rattler - no rattles! while i couldn’t see his head to determine if he had the triangular shape of a viper, i also knew i could not just stand and watch him struggle. i’d deal with his head when we got there.
at first, it appeared he was dead already - he was so still - laying exposed to sunlight and not moving at all - then, a very feeble attempt from a tiny part of his body to try to writhe through the mesh that held him tightly.
that was it - the course was charted and no returning from here. i walked over and gently took the lower part of his body (fully half) and gently lifted it to see what kind of mess he’d gotten himself into.
immediately, he wrapped all that was unexposed around my wrist multiple times, gripping with a strength that conveyed “WARNING! I AM SNAKE! LET ME GO NOW!”
as i asked my friend for a pair of scissors, the snake squeesed tighter and tighter - almost pleading with me not to hurt him.
i talked to him softly and told him i was there to help him and i would not hurt him. i told him i would free him from his prison but he had to remain still so i could cut away the tight mesh embedded into his body without cutting or hurting him. to my amazement, he loosened his hold on my wrist and became very calm and quiet.
for the next ten minutes, i carefully and slowly clipped away the parts of the mesh until i could find the specific opening that was gripping his body - the pieces that had slipped underneath his scales and locked in place. one by one, i cut very carefull to not injure his skin.
as parts of his body became free, he would try to once again try to twist and pull free, but his head and neck were the deepest embedded into the plastic prison, forming a garot around his head that would not release forward or backward.
and, while i was doing this, he watched me - with a beautiful red eye, he watched - unafraid. we were now a team, working for one common goal - to set him free unharmed.
i am still amazed at his total acceptance of my hands and grip and pulling at the mesh constricting his head and throat - he stayed absolutely still as i tried to find the last pieces that held him against his will. when the final mesh was clipped, i was still holding his lower body to make sure i hadn’t missed a piece that would grow into his body and kill him later.
he gently swung his head and neck from side to side, while suspended in my grasp - he looked at his world as if to say how good it is to be able to be free again!
he turned toward my leg and looked at his benefactor then looked forward, as we are by now walking further away from the house toward the creek to let him have a safe place to rest and recover. he guided my path by turning in the direction he wanted to go but never struggled to be released from my hand. as i got him closer to the creek, i lowered him toward the ground and gently loosened my hold to allow him to slide back to the earth and slip forward toward a life not yet to be ended.
after moving forward 50 ft, he stopped to rest and we turned quietly to leave him in safety to return to his world.
the brief encounter between us both - what some people fear and consider ‘mortal enemies’ was as gently and beautiful an expeience that this cannot do justice to being allowed into his world ever so briefly.
snakes fear us as much as most do them - yet they perform a vital and necessary function in helping the balance of nature. without snakes, the rodent population would overrun society - they help maintain the healthy gardens we so cherish. they keep their role quiet and out of sight for the most part - silent partners in a balanced world. even the more fearsome ones, those of the viper class, they are shy and would much prefer never meeting a person who is their predator - they warn us with color, with rattles, with “stay away” behavior - and, if given the opportunity, will slip out of our sight without causing harm.
my snake, the one who faced potential death because of his more toxic relatives, was a simple gopher snake. he is judged by sharing the same species with those who are more dangerous than he... and he almost lost his life because of it.
yet, when encountered yesterday, he never showed any threat, any danger, any desire to harm - he only showed understanding and patience that someone that was normally a threat to him was going to help him regain his freedom to stay alive.
the moral of this tale is, i guess, that we need to take the time to learn from nature.
as we read of the tragedy in britain where the young soldier was murdered, how the ones who did the deed were caught, now others who share the same “species/religion” are being targeted unfairly. fortunately, in britain, there are those who would protect the innocent here.
for the rest of us, the moral is to not be so quick to pass judgement until you have all the information at hand.
were my snake a rattler, would i have still freed him? the answer, for me, anyway, is still yes. i’d have done it differently - with greather precaution (a forked stick to secure his head until i could have cut him free then bagged him to take him to a much more remote place to release (as much to protect him as the occupants of the land).
the medical profession has a creed: first, do no harm. that is a standard that we all could use to live by.
by looking, listening, watching and choosing a course of action, we can minimize the harm done to those around us, who share the world with us - both people, animal and earth.
this is how i try to live my life. sometimes i don’t always succeed as i’d like, but it is the guiding principle for me - it is how i can look at that face in the mirror and not turn away in shame.
this is the lesson of the snake - he was beautiful and i was blessed with the chance to be a part of his world for just a little while - but in a significant way. we “spoke” to each other yesterday - and i learned from what he had to say.
on this memorial day, please take the time to see the glory of the world around you. it comes in so many forms: the cawing of the crow, the still flight of a hawk, the mewing of a kitten or the sleekness of a silent snake moving where you least expect him.
may peace and blessings surround you and those you love. and may you find love back - even if it is from a grateful snake.