Monday, October 22, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 9: Snake Guy

Jamison came to our house a couple of months ago. We had snakes on our property and he's a snake guy. He really likes snakes. A lot. And because he likes snakes, he wanted to save them from their likely fate if they stayed around. He came searching for the little buggers, put them into a bucket, and took them away to live elsewhere.

He had five or six safely contained when a few of us went out to talk with him. Asked how fast they travel, he pulled one out and put it down to show us it's pretty close to walking speed. Then he picked it up near the end of its tail. (Then again, isn't pretty much all of the snake a tail? But you know what I mean.) Her head bobbed back and forth, body squiggling in the air as he carried her back to the bucket. I commented on that, asking if this extraordinarily flexible animal was unable to twist herself back up toward his hand for a bite. She can, he explained, but she doesn't want to. The snake was not inherently violent; she just needed to know he wasn't going to hurt her, and he communicated that to her through his actions.

I'd been thinking physiologically, in terms of muscles and gravity. Jamison responded psychologically, in terms of motivation. His respect for the snake and educated assessment of the (low) risk involved was combined with a familiarity with its behavior that gave him confidence in the interaction. The snake wasn't particularly comfortable with Jamison, but seemed to recognize that he wasn't threatening her. Each respected the other's boundaries, which gave both reason to trust enough for the moment.

That interaction captured my heart. I'm not picking up snakes and I'm certainly not letting them go to catch them again. But as a human metaphor, I find myself sometimes in encounters a bit like that of Jamison and the snake -- two very different creatures, both personally engaged, each capable of harming the other and (most of the time) neither bent on doing so. I want to be clear-headed in distinguishing the relatively few "venomous" ones, of course, skilled in responding to genuine threats. I want to recognize mutual good intent where it exists. And whatever the situation, I want to be courageous in the unknown, wise in my boundaries, and always respectful of the other as a unique fellow creature.

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