Monday, April 8, 2019

#98 / Moment With A Snake

I always enjoy the Sierra Club's Desert Report. I thought the March 2019 issue was unusually good, and among all the exceptionally informative articles in that issue, I was particularly struck by "My Moment With A Snake," by Birgitta Jansen. I can't link you right to the article. You'll have to hunt it down for yourself in the March 2019 issue. I am providing an excerpt, that tells the story, right here:

ON A SUNNY SUNDAY MORNING IN APRIL, I walked down an old abandoned mine road in Redlands Canyon, Death Valley National Park. ... The flowers were at their peak, and a cloud of insects created a multitonal symphony. The seductive scent of nectar filled the soft warm air. With each step I felt so fortunate to find myself in the midst of it all and experience this vibrant celebration of life. 
Suddenly I heard a sound I should have recognized instantly but somehow didn’t. I stopped walking and listened. For a split second I thought “bird?” No, couldn’t be. It went on for too long. But I couldn’t immediately determine which direction it came from. The air resonated with so many sounds. Then I happened to look down. Right next to the trail and approximately two feet away from my feet, was a mature Panamint Red partly coiled and rattling softly but insistently. 
I looked at her as she looked at me. There was no doubt as to the message that she conveyed. “You are too close.” 
I slowly backed away. Odd, I did not feel threatened. It felt like a straightforward warning not a preliminary to an attack. I slowly backed away a few feet, and she stopped rattling. We both remained motionless as she scrutinized me for a few more minutes. Then she turned away and went on her way leisurely gliding along looking utterly elegant. Her movement was smooth and flowing, regardless of any impediments this wild terrain offered. She was beautiful; sleek, muscular and healthy looking. This was her territory. This was her home. She knew it and she looked it. As I stood watching her, I was mesmerized. 
Then I thought: “Photograph.” I was not carrying a camera, so I called out to Neal, my husband, who was nearby but out of sight. He recognized the urgency in my voice and soon came walking around a corner. Being the artist and avid photographer that he is, he carried two cameras, one strapped over his shoulder and one in his hand. As Neal approached, the snake knew instantly that something had changed. She slid under a bush and stayed put. And that was that. ... 
When I think back to my encounter with this magnificent Panamint Red, I ... regret my actions. I wished I had just allowed myself to be fully engaged with the magic of that moment. Here I had been given the opportunity to observe a snake being a snake. It was a creature utterly alien and inaccessible to me, but yet it was right there fully inhabiting her own world. I not only splintered that opportunity but also rudely invaded her space.

Ultimately, I am left with the question: do I want a photograph or do I want the experience that touches my soul?

It seems to me that the essence of Jansen's meditation upon our place in nature is her realization that we are visitors in the Natural World, and should behave as guests. When we do that, and simply observe, in awe, the wonders of the world that sustains all life, including our own, our joy can be profound. When we try to appropriate nature, and turn it to our own uses, we very often go awry, sometimes in small ways, as in Jansen's story, and sometimes in much larger ways. 

Overall, I think we are going awry in rather large ways. We ought to take care. If we listen closely, we can hear the rattles: Be advised!

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