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Snake Gratitude, or Anthropomorphism?

This past Mother’s Day, my wife and I (neither one of us parents) had a close encounter with the greatest mother of all—Mother Nature.  Unexpected, perplexing, yet ultimately, in a way, gratifying.  And not soon to be forgotten!

Intending to spend the day at our little vacation house on Lake Gardner and catch up some maintenance tasks there, we planned to enjoy the latter part of the excursion at a cookout with the next-door neighbors.  So it was with a certain amount of vigor and anticipation that I launched into the mowing and scything while Dee cleaned inside the house.  The grass had gotten a fair head start and first had to be cleared of blowdown branches and twigs.

In late winter the county had installed a sewer system in the area and replaced our septic tank with a grinder pump.  The space around the pump had been seeded to grass and covered with straw mulch that was held in place by plastic, degradable netting.  So the work there had to be accomplished completely with the scythe.

As I was scything away around the pump, an oddly-shaped, dark-colored stick at the edge of the grass caught my attention.  However, upon closer scrutiny, I identified it as a snake’s tail.  Drawing the grass away with my scythe, I discovered a blue racer of better than medium size hopelessly and fatally entangled along the edge of the plastic net.  Well, too bad, old boy, I thought, as I reached down with my glove to lift the tail and assess how much work it would be to disentangle and dispose of the remains.  But in response to my grasp, the snake gave a vigorous wriggle with the end of its tail—lo and behold, he was still alive!

Now, my first thought was simply to crush his head, put him out of his misery, then follow through with my initial intention.  But staring down at the helpless creature, condemned to a fate not of his choosing but rather the result of the intrusion of humankind and its ways, the better part of my nature took pity and I began to contemplate how I might set him free.  No small feat, such were the numerous plastic strands around his body, but worth a try as blue racers are admittedly a healthy component of the ecosystem.

I repaired to the house to obtain a pair of sharp-pointed scissors from my dearly beloved and then returned to the rescue challenge ahead.  The poor reptile lay partly in shade, so my vision through my sunglasses was far from optimal (not to mention the sweat intermittently stinging my eyes), especially when trying to distinguish the thin black plastic against the deep gray of his dorsal scales.  I had to take particular care not to gouge his body when sliding the blade under the confining strands.  At first he seemed to writhe his tail in resistance, but then, whether from exhaustion or some mystic comprehension of help having arrived, he relaxed and let me work.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I detected the weeds beside me moving.  What’s this, I exclaimed to myself—another snake, for Pete’s sake!  Are we being overrun?  I poked around with the scythe, but found nothing, so I returned to my task.  However, a few minutes later I glanced to the side and, indeed, there was a second blue racer—a little smaller and more slender—slithering toward me.  When I moved, it quickly shot back into the weeds out of sight.

I continued my “operation freedom” with a determined focus, but a little later I looked to the side once more to discover the second snake was back, having paused not far from my boot and lifted its head high in the air, watching me intently.  And it remained there.  Hmmm, I mused.  Perhaps that’s the mate exhibiting a state of curiosity, concern or even hope?  Why not?  Anyway, I thought to myself, it’s a novel question to ponder.

I freed the head of the trapped snake last, not wanting it whipping around when I was still working on the body. When I cut the last strand, the big blue racer sprung into vibrant life, and the two snakes were both gone in a flash into the weeds.  The weeds and a renewed future.

In telling our neighbors later about the “reptile rescue,” I drew a parallel with the human condition.  “Isn’t that what we humans all want?” I conjectured.  “When we get trapped in some conundrum of hopelessness and despair, don’t we beg for a big god in the sky to reach down, cut us free and give us a new shot at life?”  They only laughed good-naturedly.

Upon returning home late that evening, Dee and I ate a midnight snack, which unfortunately for me precipitated a severe gall bladder attack.  In the midst of my pain, I uttered an appeal to the Almighty, saying, “Come on Lord, I saved your snake.  Now please, please get me out of this pain!  I’m calling in the debt.”

A few days later, in telling another friend from church about the snake and the gall bladder, I discovered her to have a rather different reaction.  “You had the gall bladder trouble because you handled a snake!” she declared.  “Haven’t you read the Bible!”  Okay.  I guess it’s all in one’s spiritual perspective.  What is that old adage—no good deed goes unpunished?  Well, whatever.  But that’s not the way I roll.

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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

5 comments to Snake Gratitude, or Anthropomorphism?

  • mistermuse

    To paraphrase what Lucy said to Charley Brown, “You’re a good man, Mark Scheel!”

    As it happens, I was driving down my street this morning when I spotted a box turtle starting to cross the road. A pickup truck was right behind me, so I put on my right turn signal, pulled slowly off to the side (just past Mr. Turtle) and got out. Just as I picked up the turtle and started taking him out of harm’s way, another pickup truck pulled up and the driver said, “I thought I was the only one who did that!”

    So you’re the second fellow good Samaritan I’ve encountered today. 🙂

  • A good illustration of why merely being kind-hearted is seldom regarded as an uncomplicated virtue by many theologies, Mark.

  • mistermuse and Richard,

    Thank you, gentlemen, for your input. Yep, I’ll brake for turtles too. Ha. And yes, Richard, I fear you’re correct. Wish it weren’t so, but alas ’tis.


  • Don Frankel

    I can’t believe I missed this one. This is rich in allegory and stuff I never really understood too well. But I know you do. I think the snake was supposed to give Dee an apple. I don’t think you’re supposed to eat anything. You got knowledge that you already knew all about, pain. But perhaps this is best put into the category of the “best laid schemes o’ (snakes) and men a’ gang aft agley.”

    Let’s hope the two snakes ran off into the bush and made baby snakes. That way their plans had only been put on hold.

  • Hi Don,

    Yeah, I noticed you were awfully quiet and I thought, well, maybe Don just doesn’t handle snake stories well. Ha. But good to see your comment finally, and, I must say, you really nailed it with the “allegory” allusion. I didn’t put anything in like that intentionally, but, if you tell something true enough (Hemingway would certainly agree, I’m sure) it’ll appear naturally. Even got God and man and scripture as well as nature and wives and life versus death. Damn, I got it all, didn’t I? LOL Thanks for the comment, Don.


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