We, because we each have a
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
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
these bodies of knowledge are
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
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
I know, but I stayed put. There was something about him which, while I
was cautious of it, didn't make me
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
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
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
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.