As I may have mentioned, my dog Miles and I love our treks in the woods very much all fall, winter and spring. And as spring brightens day by day, the wildflowers pop out and the woods get more and more beautiful, I try to put out of my mind what this all means. Wildflowers bloom, everything greens up, turtles emerge from their muddy homes, and shortly after, so do snakes. Ugh.
I have come a long way with snakes. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare that a snake was chasing me in and out the windows of my metal dollhouse. As an adult, I had various other nightmares about snakes, in all kinds of scenarios. Then, when I lived on the edge of town, on three occasions snakes got into the house, one time a big black snake making its way up the staircase to the bedrooms. And of courseÂ IÂ found it. Horrifying! And practically anywhere I went in nature, I would very quickly see a snake! In water and on land and then in the yard of my in-town house, loads of garter snakes. I finally got somewhat used to those, even when they nested near my front porch steps. I would never be one to pick up a snake, mind you. The terror subsided but not the revulsion.
Miles is completely unafraid of snakes and has no compunction about pulling them out of holes in the yard, picking them up, biting and shaking them. He doesnâ€™t even seem to mind getting bitten. But here in Missouri we have copperheads and theyâ€™re quite poisonous, especially for a small dog. I imagine if he was ever bitten, heâ€™d die. For the past two years, copperheads have boldly lain across the wide trails and even on the bridges in the woods where we go. I cannot risk it.
We have stopped going to the woods for the summer, as we do. This is always difficult. IÂ loveÂ wandering in the woods and heÂ lovesÂ being off-leash and able to run and explore. Now we walk in town, around the neighborhood and sometimes on the trail. But with a leash. Not nearly as much fun for either of us. This year has been a harder adjustment. Heâ€™s slowing down and likes to spend most of the walk foraging for dandelion puffs, cicadas, and dried-up worms. I hate to say it but I get impatient. Iâ€™d like to have a brisk walk! Nope.
Thus, when the temperatures drop in October weâ€™re both keening towards the woods.
I would love to live in a land without snakes. I donâ€™t care that they eat mice and bugs. I donâ€™t care that they are part of nature, too. I donâ€™t care that they are supposedly â€œnot slimyâ€ and some people even keep them as pets. Ugh! Theyâ€™re still creepy and some are poisonous and Miles cannot be deterred from them.
â€œRegarding Girl Scout Camp survival skills: For instance, if I see a snake, I should stand still or walk backwards slowly, never run. I am one hundred percent sure I will not do that. But now, while running as fast as I can, I will be thinking, I shouldn’t be running.â€ â€• Firoozeh Dumas, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
â€œNevertheless, again and again, in season and out of season, the question comes up, ‘What are rattlesnakes good for?’ As if nothing that does not obviously make for the benefit of man had any right to exist; as if our ways were God’s ways . . . Anyhow, they are all, head and tail, good for themselves, and we need not begrudge them their share of life.â€
â€• John Muir, The Yellowstone National Park
If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on myÂ website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.
Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”