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The Sacred Planet: A Snake Story

Gopher Snake -photo by Nancy Scarborough

I have always enjoyed being in nature and I have wonderful memories of being out and about. One of my favorites was an amazing encounter I had with a snake. Growing up in a rural part of Thailand I have had my fair share of encounters with these reptiles. As kids we would travel about cautiously with the understanding that running into a snake was a way of life as they seemed to be everywhere.

At night if we had to go anywhere outdoors we would walk single file, stomp our feet and bark out loudly like dogs. Someone had told us that snakes were afraid of dogs. We really didn't know if this was true or not, but it seemed to work as none of us ever got bit at night. A bite would not be good. Many of these serpents were cobras or other kinds of poisonous snakes. One of the few American friends I had at the time had died from a poisonous snake bite. The son of a diplomat, he had been playing at the edge of a pond when he got bit. They never knew what kind of snake it was, not that it mattered.

I had one particularly close call myself, with what I am pretty sure was a cobra. I had fallen asleep on the back of a water buffalo that had been grazing in a grassy area by my house. it was at dusk when my father called for me to come in. Without paying much attention, I jumped off the back of the buffalo, at the very same time a snake happened to be crawling in my direction. I'm sure it was surprised by me suddenly appearing in it's way. It leaped up to bite me in self defense. I remember instinctively lifting my leg like a hurdler as the snake flew by just below my knee. I turned to watch it race away. I felt incredibly lucky that evening to say the least!

Many years later, living in California, I still was spending a great deal of time outdoors working and playing. I did learn to relax and enjoy strolling through meadows of tall grass knowing there was little chance of running into a poisonous snake. I also managed to suppress my urge to stomp my feet and bark like a dog when I walked around at night.

Late one afternoon at the end of a long hard day on a steep landscape project, tired and exhausted, I trudged down a trail back to the road. I was anxious to start driving home. I opened the door to my truck and just as I was about to slide in, I turned to take one last look up at the job. My eyes were drawn to a particular shrub, a Leptospermum, a non native from Australia.

I was struck by how from a distance, the flowers on this bush seemed exceptionally beautiful and of all things I decided to hike back up the hill to get a closer look, as I wanted to be sure to remember the exact color of these flowers for future projects. Once I made it back up to this bush, I knelt down and leaned forward for a closer inspection. All of a sudden I saw that directly in front of me under this bush was a huge brown snake with it's head pulled back ready to strike.

It took me a moment or two to realize it was a gopher snake and not a rattle snake. It could still bite, but this one was in a lot of trouble. It was all twisted and tangled up in a black plastic netting. I couldn't believe how small the snake's body was being constricted in certain spots. Even though this type of netting was very thin, it was also very strong and hard to break. This plastic material would need to be cut to free the snake. I truthfully didn't know whether I would be able to save it or not, it was being strangled so badly. I pulled out my Felco clippers and slowly inserted the blade between the netting and the snake's body and carefully started cutting each tiny line one at a time. I don't remember how long it took. I wasn't really keeping track of time. In the end I did manage to cut away all of the netting and the snake did slither away safely.

I have wondered from time to time, how I ended up getting directed to go help that snake, whether it had summoned me or was it some other force at work. I have only had one or two other similar incidences that I know of. I thought it was a pretty amazing experience and I was glad I was able to help that snake out.

"I expect to pass through this world but once, any good thing therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any creature, let me do it now, let me not deter or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." ~ Stephan Grellet

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