Let me tell you the story of a snake.
This afternoon, as Jon washing out some old bins beside the barn, and I was transplanting hosta by the shop, we were caught by the sight of a pair of brown thrashers dancing underneath the walnut tree. We figured it was a mating ritual. After one flew away, the other continued to dance-flit in a sort of circle around a branch, flashing its wings in rhythmic motions. When that one, too, had flown, I went to inspect the stick, which seemed odd to me. I thought maybe instead of a mating ritual, the birds were agitated about another dead bird or small animal.
It was not a stick, and it was not dead. It was a four-foot long black snake, squiggled in upon herself. (Note on Snake Pronouns: “It” seems disrespectful, somehow, like I am refusing to acknowledge her beingness. And somehow singular “they” doesn’t quite feel right here either, so I am going to use she/her.)
The whole family spent some time watching her, and she didn’t move more than to flick her tongue and shift her head to watch us. She was either frightened or torpid or waiting to figure out her next move. Snakes are patient that way.
Twenty minutes later I was carrying the black flags my parents had given me to the hole by the shop where I was planning to plant them.
The snake was sliding along the edge of the grass at the driveway toward the little stream of water running from Jon’s bin-washing. She stopped, dipped her head to the stream, and drank. Have you ever watched a snake drink? It was already feeling like a pretty sacred moment of wonder by this point watching a snake drink. I felt like the Goddess in Denise Levertov’s poem “The Fountain.”
I stood where I was, bag of plants in one hand and shovel in the other, and the snake began slithering toward me.
I’m not afraid of snakes. Not exactly. I love them. And yet, perhaps I actually am just the tiniest bit afraid of them.
This one slithered right toward me. I made a conscious decision not to move, to stay where I was, and to see what she would do when she came near to me. She kept on, right toward me, and I had a momentary sense that she was going to slither right between my feet.
And then she DID! Right between my feet!
I don’t think I would still be believing myself that it had happened had Jon not been there watching, too. Off she went to the hosta I had just disturbed beside the sycamore tree, and curled herself in a hollow beneath their broad leaves and in a hollow between sycamore roots.
You can tell me there’s a scientific reason that she came my way–snakes perhaps can’t see particularly well, perhaps they move toward tall things, and she slithered my way thinking I was a bush, perhaps it was simply the most direct route from small stream to sycamore.
Still. Still. Still, it was a magical moment I needed right now. A messenger. A visitation.
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched — but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.