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 IV

William Harrison Vineyards, Rutherford, California, USA

May 15, 2012

This essay, Snake IV, is the fourth in the quintology Snake:

We, because we each have a mind, have a tendency when we have otherworldly  encounters with non-human creatures, to make those encounters mean  something, to make them significant. You know, we say things like "The native American Comanche  tribe say if you encounter a fox on a trail, it means this  ...", "The Mohicans  say if you encounter an eagle flying by, it means this  ...", "The Sioux  say if you encounter a salmon in a stream, it means that  ...".

Similarly, we assign significance when we dream  about such creatures, significance which comes not only from native American tribal legends but also from contemporary psychology  legends - "legends", implying these significances may be true or not. I have a great deal of respect for these legends, and for the significance they assign to encountering or dreaming about such creatures - who also, by the way, appear in the practice of yoga. The snake, for example, recurs as Bhujanga, Kundalini, Shiva, et al. These folk lores, these bodies of knowledge  are ancient, dignified, rich, and intelligent. In a word, these bodies of knowledge are moving.

The part of the world in which I live is rife for such encounters. Whenever they occur, I like to just be with  them, being with the experience  of them rather than being with the significance they're supposedly assigned. In other words, I like to have it that in the moment  there's just me and the creature - whatever creature it is this time. Then later, should I be interested in doing so, I can google  its assigned significance. And when I do so, I hold any significance I discover simply as significance. Mindful of my own tendencies to do so, I don't make these encounters mean anything. It's more than that actually. It's if I do  make them mean something, it diminishes the experience of the encounter.

That's what happened one day recently when I parked my car in a friend's vineyard and took a walk in the dry summer air. The vines have budded. The grapes, each about the size of a pin head now, still have a way to go. In about four and a half months (that's all it takes), these pin head sized grapes will be hanging in heavy bunches, and harvested. Grape vines and their fruit grow fast like bamboo, some varieties of which grow four inches a day.

I almost stepped on him: a big dark brown dappled snake about four feet long basking on the path between the trellises. That's a thing about snakes: they don't always move away when you approach them. If you hike in these parts, it's best to look down and pay careful attention to where you're stepping. This big beautiful guy didn't move - but I stopped myself in time to avoid stepping on him. There I stood, leaning slightly forward, looking down at him, staring at his fabulously patterned skin. He didn't seem to mind me standing there next to him. His tongue flicked in and out of his mouth a few times. I know enough about snakes to know he was smelling  me.

So I said to him "Well hello, Big Guy!" - cordial, yet keeping out of his way. He looked up at me ... and then started to slither towards  me, like he was coming over to get a closer look, or a closer sniff  (or a bite?). But he also could just have been moving ahead in the directoin in which he was going anyway, and I just happened to be in his way. So I stepped to one side to allow him to pass.

Seeing me move away, he stopped ... then changed direction and slithered towards me again.

I also know enough about snakes to know what their striking  position looks like, and this guy wasn't trying to strike me. He was merely turning and coming towards me again - unusual for a snake. So I moved out of his way again, and waited. He's playing with me, I thought, like a puppy would come towards me. Sure enough, he turned again and came slithering towards me, kicking up little puffs of dust under the vines as he did so.

This time I stayed put - maybe stoopid  I know, but I stayed put. There was something about him which, while I was cautious of it, didn't make me afraid. He slithered right up to my boot, flicking his tongue in and out, smelling it. I was entranced. Deep in my survival brain, red lights were flashing and alarm bells were ringing so loudly and so brightly I could have been blinded and deafened. But I just stood there as he flicked his tongue at my boot. And pretty soon I got his message. "Well ... it's great to meet you too"  I said to him. He didn't answer. He was too engrossed in discovering my boot. Pretty soon he was done with my boot. As abruptly as he came over, he looked at me one last time, turned, then slithered away under the vines and was gone, leaving only ess-shaped tracks in the dust.

"Wow! ..." I said to myself. "That was awesome!"  It really was. It put me in a good mood - and I don't really know why. I continued my walk for about another half hour, then returned to my car and started the drive out of the vineyard back home.

That's when I saw him again, close to where I'd said goodbye to him - only this time he'd slithered out from among the vines and was lying in the road directly in the path of my car. "Oh, $&#*!" I said, silently mouthing the expletive, swerving sharply to avoid him, spilling the contents of my tea mug all over the dashboard. I pulled over to the side of the road, got out, and walked back to him. "Listen!" I said, "You gotta move. You can't lie here. Someone else may not see you (I  nearly didn't see you) and could run right over you. Please  get out of the road.".

But he didn't move. I walked closer to him, closer than I'm comfortable with around most snakes. But this guy had already alleviated my fear when he came towards me earlier and only flicked his tongue at my boot. I tapped his tail with my boot to get him to move. But he wouldn't.

I actually pleaded with him. "Please  move! You'll get killed here.". Nothing. I suppose I could have grabbed him by the neck behind his head so he wouldn't be able to strike me, then moved him to safety. But frankly I wasn't up for that. Any false bravado  I may have had in that regard was interrupted by the red lights again flashing brightly and the alarm bells again ringing loudly. Still, I couldn't leave him there, exposed and in danger. So I picked up a long stick and poked him gently in the direction I wanted him to move.

Immediately  he coiled up. I know enough about snakes to tell now he was angry, very  angry, holding his head up in the classic striking position. Man! I'm not going to hurt you, I thought to myself. But he wasn't backing down. So I poked him again. And he coiled tighter. And lifted his head in the striking position higher. Stalemate.

Not knowing what I could do to get him to move, I had an idea: I walked around him. Given what he did earlier, if I got on the side of him towards which I wanted him to move, and just stood there, perhaps he would come towards me again and smell my boot. In this way, I could then slowly back up and lead him into the vineyard to safety. I never got that far. As I walked towards him, he suddenly lowered his head from its striking position, turned away from me, and made a languid escape back into the vineyard.

I stood there for a while at the side of the road until I could no longer see him. He was gone. I didn't necessarily want  him gone. I just wanted him off the road and safe. But now he was gone and  safe. I went back to my car and, to the best of my ability, mopped up the spilled tea with a kleenex. If anything else (or any-one  else) spilled tea all over my dashboard like this, I would have been royally ticked off. But I wasn't. Not for him. It was OK.

As I drove out of the vineyard going home, the evening news (with all the meaning and significance we assign to it) started coming over National Public Radio.

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