A snake goeswith intensity (as
may have said). Where there are snakes, and especially where there are
human beings where there are snakes, there's something intense
going on. Snakes appear in the warning threat to life logo
of Medic-Alert bracelets. For religious sects like the
With Signs Following, handling venomous snakes puts their faith to the
test. In the Egyptian pantheon a snake is worshipped as
of harvest and fertility.
If you ask me if I can hear snakes speaking, I'd say "sometimes". I
wouldn't make a big deal out of it. It doesn't mean much to me. It's
I heard a snake in distress, in panic actually, as I drove home
one dusky sunset evening. I heard him before I saw him. When I saw him
I said "Oh, there you are!". I knew he was somewhere
He was in the middle of my lane, a big brown snake, four or five feet
long, with a girth thicker than my wrist. Totally vulnerable to
traffic, in imminent danger of being run over, he was thrashing,
undulating back and forth, back and forth in rapid tight
ess movements, not going anywhere, not moving forward.
I've seen these majestic creatures killed on the road before, run over
by callous drivers who don't even attempt to avoid them. Thrashing in
death agony, they do then what this snake was doing now.
I slowed down and stopped my car in the middle of the road in front of
him. I looked at him very, very carefully. He wasn't hurt. A pristine
specimen. Magnificent, in fact. Nothing broken. No blood. Why then (if
not in agony) was he thrashing? Why was he ess-ing back and
forth in panic? More to the point, why was I hearing his call of
In a flash I got the situation he was in. He was trying to cross the
road, side-winding his way along as snakes do, minding his
own business. Then I came along. He was terrified of me and especially
of my car. So he panicked and speeded up to get away from me and out of
the way of my car. But in so doing he lost traction. He couldn't grip
the surface of the asphalt. So there he was, thrashing, undulating back
and forth, back and forth in rapid tight ess movements, trying but
failing to get traction, not going anywhere, not moving forward,
helpless. It was totally clear to me what he was going through, what
his thoughts were, why he was frantic. A human being would have the
same panicked experience like so:
You're standing at the edge of a reservoir in the dead of winter. Its
sides are slick with ice. A thin layer of ice covers the surface of the
water. And you, leaning too far over the edge, lose your balance. You
start to slip down the frozen slope. At first you laugh at your own
clumsiness, thinking all it will cost you is some dirt on your jeans.
And then you realize you're slowly sliding down the slope toward the
ice, unable to get traction, unable to grab onto anything to stop
yourself sliding down. The shock dawns on you you'll eventually slide
onto the ice, your body weight will break through it and you'll be in
freezing water, unable to get out. That's when you start to panic.
That's when you get frantic.
That's what occurred for the snake not getting traction as he tried to
cross the road. He knew he was dead meat if he couldn't get across the
road, just like you'd know you're dead meat if you couldn't get out of
a frozen reservoir.
If you ask me if I can speak to snakes, I'd say "sometimes". I wouldn't
make a big deal out of it. It doesn't mean much to me. It's not
I said to him "It's OK. I'm not going anywhere. I'll leave my car
parked right here in the middle of the road. No other cars will be able
to get by. You'll be safe. Take your time. Relax, and you'll get your
traction back.". He instantly calmed down. The thrashing stopped. The
ess-ing slowed, and then he was able to start moving again toward the
other side of the road. I relaxed too. I'm OK talking with him. I'm not
so OK with the prospect of picking him up and carrying him to safety.
No Crocodile Hunter am I.
By then four cars had slowed, pulling up behind mine, their drivers
wondering what the problem was. When the snake emerged from the front
of my car on his way across the center divide it became clear to them
what was happening, why I was stopped in the middle of the road. They
rolled down their windows, watching with me in awe, patiently sharing
the road with another of
creatures, that dusky sunset evening.
Then I heard his distress start up again - the panic, the fear, the
frenzy. He started thrashing again, ever wilder this time, the esses
now not simply undulating his body sideways on the road but more
violently, up and down, rolling like a rope. "What is it now?" I
thought. "Hey, Big Guy!" I said to him. "Whoa! Slow down. It's OK.". I
had no idea what was agitating him again.
Then again I'm not a snake. And I don't lie on the ground as much as a
snake does. So I haven't learned to listen to sounds from the ground
using my entire body as a snake can. He'd heard a car coming towards
him on the opposite side of the road. He heard the car coming towards
him even before I saw it. When I heard him say "Oh no: a car!" I looked
up and sure enough there was a car, hurtling towards him,
traveling way too fast for that country road.
At first I thought the driver wouldn't see the snake crossing the road,
and wouldn't slow down. But as the car drew closer I clearly saw the
driver and his passenger. I clearly saw their faces. They were talking.
They could see the snake. They were smiling. With rising shock, horror,
anger, and disgust, it dawned on me they fully intended to
not slow down. They fully intended, for fun, to run over the snake.
Callous disregard had
had arrived on the country road. The snake, sensing the closing danger,
thrashed ever more wildly. But his anxiety only worsened his plight.
Thrashing cost him traction. The harder he thrashed the slower he
moved, the less he traveled out of danger. I saw the glint of terror in
his eyes. The corners of his mouth pulled back in a rictus
of imminent doom. As the car bore down on him, the expectant grins on
the faces of the driver and his passenger got wider and wider.
I didn't have much time to react. I knew what I had to do. I didn't
like what I had to do. But I knew I had to do it. Jumping back into my
car, starting the engine and throwing the stick into drive
in one motion, I edged over the center divide into the left lane
blocking it entirely, my car a barrier between the snake and the
oncoming car, preventing the snake from being run over. My car with me
in it was now dead in the path of a vehicle traveling at close to fifty
miles an hour seventy yards away. I gripped the steering wheel, gritted
my teeth, closed my eyes, and waited.
It took way too long before I heard the squeal of brakes,
and then it took way too long for the squeal to stop.
a crash, autoshop bodywork bills popped into my mind,
medical bills popped into my mind. Suddenly I felt
decidedly stupid, totally reckless, and vulnerable.
When no crash came I slowly released my white-knuckled viselike grip
from the steering wheel. Adrenalin pumped. Opening one eye I saw the
other car skidded to a stop at an angle on the shoulder. No one was
hurt, and there wasn't a chance the driver or his passenger would have
gotten much support or sympathy from the other drivers who witnessed
their attempt to callously and cold bloodedly run over the snake.
The snake? Again he'd calmed down, stopped thrashing, gained traction
again, and was moving, now slowly and sedately, toward the other side
of the road. Reaching the shoulder he raised the first eight inches of
his body off the ground, turned and looked at me. Thank
You! he said. I heard him - as clear as a bell. Did the other
drivers hear him? I don't know. "You're quite Welcome!" I said, adding
"I apologize to you for the other guy", not hesitating even in the
slightest to speak out loud in English to the snake while six other
people looked on. Savage brute! he said. Then he turned
away, and soon his body was disappearing into the scrub on the other
side of the road until all I could see was his tail and then eventually
that too disappeared.
There we were, we with our cars on a country road: my car almost at
right angles to and blocking both lanes, four cars in line behind mine,
another car at an angle on the opposite shoulder. A few glances and
smiles were exchanged but not one more word was said.
By now the sun had almost totally set. I started my engine and drove