Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Snake III

Big Ranch Road, Napa, California, USA

April 15, 2007

This essay, Snake III, is the third in the quintology Snake:

Photograph courtesy
Snake Crossing Road - West To East

A snake goeswith  intensity (as Alan Watts 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 Church Of God With Signs Following, handling venomous snakes puts their faith to the test. In the Egyptian pantheon  a snake is worshipped as Renenutet, the Goddess 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 not significant.

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 close.

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 distress?

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 significant.

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 God's 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 shown up, 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. Anticipating 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 home.

Snake Crossing Road - East To West
Photograph courtesy

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