Last Sunday morning, a soft gentle sunny day, so typical of this time of year around here, I was confronted by a snake.
"Was it a big one"? You may ask. Every snake who surprises you is big. This one was.
The Art of Confronting the Beasty
Stepping outside my studio for a breath of fresh air, there it was, basking its magical geometry in the mid-morning sun just outside my door.
First reaction. "Kill". I didn't though.
Why, I wondered, is our first reaction always to kill this magnificent beast. This symbol of the creative spirit. This unfairly cast character in Adam and Eve's play. This most exquisitely patterned primordial piece of living rope. This silent slitherer.
Is this reaction built into our genes, is it the aggressive side of my male nature or is it fear. Blind fear. As in not being able to see. Not being able to understand.
I am not by nature aggressive and there was nothing to defend. I wasn't afraid of it in any way. A little weary maybe, but not afraid.
We fear things mainly because we don't understand them.
In my case 'Fear' would have to apply to the meeting with the snake. Fear in relation to failing to understand. I don't know the particular ways of this marvellous mover. All I know about snakes are the indoctrinated and scary stories, whether they are from the biblical times of my childhood and therefore very strong, or more recent from anyone else, real or made up.
I slowly stepped back inside my studio to consider all this and, after considering, decided to try and understand. To try and learn about the snake. After all, it was only early summer and I had a long snake time to come yet.
I have stated that 'Learning is the best healer' in this column before.
First therefore, a re-look at my 'snake history'. I started my life in Australia at Bonegilla, where the authorities educated/scared us with horror stories about snakes and spiders. Following this my first job was on a farm in N.S.W. It was hot and there were many snakes. I was taught how to kill them. Effectively. Next I moved to the city of churches, Adelaide. The only snakes I had to watch out for there were of an entirely different kind. After a short stint in the city, for my education, I returned to the country, the Flinder's Ranges in fact. There on the very day I moved into an old farm house I found a snake moving in at the same address. I didn't ask its name, nor did I introduce myself. I killed it. Afterwards I wondered why that made me feel awful.
Since moving into the forest, locally, I have hardly ever seen any snakes. Yet there are plenty around. Maybe I don't give them any attention.
I considered our collective arrogance summed up in the idea of: There is an animal, it doesn't suit me, BANG. Kill it. It begs the question. Doesn't any animal has as much right to live on this patch as we have. Probably more so. It has been here much, much longer.
What is it with this white man attitude? I know, the problem with most animals is that they don't understand that they need to claim their bit of real estate by going to the Council and obtain their claim with a proper document, like us, superior beings. Then they would be able to do what they liked. Shoot things, poison stuff, cut down trees, the whole catastrophy.
After these thoughts ran through my head I still had to deal with the snake. My 'concept' of snake, which is different to a real one. I took off my glasses labelled 'Fear' and sat down near the snake. I talked to it. I explained that we could live together but that there were certain rules. Easy. I sat and talked to it quietly for a long time. I was able to get quite close. There was no reason for it to attack me nor for me to kill it. In reality there hardly ever is. I have shown it the respect it deserves and now we will work on sharing this space, on living together.
"Silly Bugger" a neighbour said. 'Blind fear' I answered.