June 24, 2007

New skin

When I was a kid, I didn't much like snakes. My instinctive reaction, perhaps a sensible one, would be to stop in my tracks at the sight of a snake stretched out on a rock to sun itself. The snakes in my life were harmless garter snakes or water snakes, but I'd have nightmares about snakes, long and brightly colored snakes that I had never seen in real life, snakes that terrified me. I'd wake up shaking, drenched with sweat after a snake nightmare. These dreams continued into adulthood. But then my friend Poet Woman told me that I needed to embrace the snakes in my dreams. She told me that snakes symbolized change and transformation, and that I needed stop being so afraid of change.

I've tried over the years to embrace change, to welcome snakes into my life. Poet Woman used to give snake demonstrations at a science museum, and I'd watch her as she stood calmly talking while a long boa constrictor slithered over her shoulders, winding around her long hair and then her legs, just crawling all over her. One time she asked me to stand still, and she placed the snake on me, the coils of it turning heavily against my own hair.

I've learned all kinds of things about snakes from my students, who take a whole course in herpetology. I've seen snakes, real life snakes, at important moments during my life, at times when I was undergoing transformations of my own. I've gathered snakeskins, too, and have several on the bookshelves of my home office, as a reminder to myself of the kind of shedding that sometimes needs to happen when growth occurs.

I still don't love snakes the way other people I've known. I wouldn't volunteer to give snake demonstrations like Poet Woman does. I would never pick a water snake up and carry it around in my pocket like That Kid We Knew Up at Camp. I wouldn't write a dissertation on snakes and spend my life studying them like Grad Student Who Studies Shy, Endangered Rattlesnakes. I certainly wouldn't grab a snake and chase my friends around with it like Any Number of Annoying Kids I Went to School With Including Blonde Sister.

But I've grown to appreciate the presence of snakes, the watersnakes that sun themselves on our dock up at camp and the garter snakes that live in my woodpile. Four years ago, during a wonderful week that was filled for me with growth and transformation, I saw a snake at Pretty Colour Lake and then another snake at Pond Made Famous By Nature Writer. This May, while I was doing yard work and planting two new river birches, a project that felt good because it was the first time since my knee injury that I felt truly healed, I tried to move a dead tree that had come crashing down during a winter storm, and beneath it, curled in the grass, I saw a small snake.

Snake

20 comments:

ThirdCat said...

When I go to our holiday place, I don't even dare think the word 'snake' in case it dreams one into being.

east village idiot said...

You are one brave mofo! There is no way my relationship to snakes will ever be revisited in my lifetime.

Artist Friend said...

This is interesting. I remember seeing the snake at Pretty Color Lake, and how surprised you were to see it swimming. Some cultures believe that signs are out there showing us things, and if we learn to recognize them, the messages are there to teach us. (This is wholly non-scientific of course, but so what?) Maybe that was a moment of change and growth for you? It's great to have been there and part of it, if so.

heidi said...

It's funny to have the photo of the snake posted right above the photo of you lying on the stone steps, getting warm just like a snake.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I psyched myself up to scroll down to see the entire photo of the snake, and then my legs went all a-fire and my hands turned cold, and I realized that it'll take a good bit of therapy to get past that phobia. But. I'm glad you are seeing them as growth and change...maybe with a little work, I can too.

Seeking Solace said...

I am totally snake phobic! I had to zip past the photo!

jo(e) said...

Artist Friend: I've gone to Pretty Colour Lake my whole life, and that's the only time I've seen a snake there.

Heidi: I never thought about that before, but you're right. I suppose lying on a rock to get warm is very snake-like ....

YourFireAnt said...

I haven't either, and have too. Also. As well.

FA

Kyla said...

I think it is great that you overcame that fear and that it now symbolizes something beautiful and new happening in your life.

Loren said...

As a young child, we moved from garter snake country to rattlesnake country, and I started having nightmares of falling into “snake dens,” just like in True Grit.

I’ve learned to coexist with snakes in my garden over the years, but my heart still gives a rush when I nearly step on one and they slither off.

I doubt that ever changes.

Rana said...

Oh, what a wonderful little snake!

One of the sadnesses about my relationship with D. is that he does. NOT. like. snakes. While I grew up raised by a father who collected snakes as a kid, and who would frequently stop the car on road trips so he could rescue a snake from the side of the road, or even collect it to take home (my brother and I were stripping the pillowcases off our pillows to hold it the moment he started to slow down).

I'm probably unlikely to capture a wild snake to take it home - even if D. was open to it - but I do feel a certain affection for them. Venomous ones... those I'm more respectful of, and am happy to gaze at from a distance.

Nadine said...

I like snakes (not surprising, I know). I often see them when hiking and feel fortunate when I do.

listie said...

I don't think I'll ever get over my snake phobia. The year they kept getting into my mother's house and slithering through the living room just about put me over the edge.

niobe said...

It doesn't look so small to me.

S. said...

The ones in my garden are a light tan and much smaller--or at least skinnier (scale being hard to tell in a close-up). Mine please me so much because they are a sign of a healthy ecosystem at work.

Kathryn said...

Jo(e)...i've never had to stop reading your blog before...but I just knew there was going to be a picture and I DONT DO SNAKES
not even on one of my very favourite blogs...not even when described by twin separated at birth...
Which I guess proves the above theory...but still. PLEASE make it go away......

Picky Mick said...

That photo is so exquisitely beautiful that I almost...nope, I still hate snakes.

BeachMama said...

As much as I hate snakes, they are truly beautiful creatures. It's the unknown and slithering that makes them so unliked by many.

Linda said...

I'm curious what names you would give the snakes that show up during these times of transformation.

purple_kangaroo said...

Awww, it's curled up so cozily, like a cat. And it looks a little scared.