Sunday, September 19, 2010

Communing with Copperheads

It was a dark and stormy night at camp in the summer of 1972. Rains from Hurricane Agnes had pounded the camp for days. Making one last visit to the bathroom before going to bed, I darted into the washhouse and occupied an empty stall. As no one else was in the building (they all had better sense than to be out in the rain), I left the door to the stall open. That's why I noticed the coiled copperhead resting just inside the entrance to the building. Recognizing that even snakes were seeking dry ground, I contemplated this state of affairs for quite a while, since in order to exit the building I would have to pass perilously close to the snake. Finally, I decided that the wisest course of action was to sing, and lull the snake into a sonambulant state. Tender Shepherd, Peace I Ask of Thee O River, Day is Done, all poured forth in the calmest tones I could muster. And indeed, I slipped passed the snake with no problem.

Returning to the cabin I mentioned, in an off-handed manner, "oh, by the way, there's a copperhead in the washroom." Well, that stirred some souls to action: "We have to go get Fred!" In retrospect, this may have been an appropriate - even a sound - decision. However, at the time I thought "Oh, no, they are going to kill the snake, and the snake is my friend, I just shared a moment with the snake. What have I done? I can't let them kill the snake." So we all donned our slickers, pulled on our boots, grabbed flashlights, and ventured out into the downpour. Cheryl went to get Fred while I stood guard over the snake, prepared to beat Fred off should he make any belligerent motions toward the snake. Fred arrived with a stick that had the appearance of a plunger handle. Fortunately, death was not an option that night, as copperheads are a protected species. Instead, handling the stick with great delicacy, Fred maneuvered the snake onto its tip, and we formed a procession through the torrential downpour to the Nature lodge, with Fred holding the snake aloft like a torch. (What do you imagine the snake was thinking?) The copperhead was deposited safely into an aquarium, and provided fodder for dramatic story-telling the first week of camp, before it was returned to the forest.

Since then, I have been known to sit and meditate with a two-foot long copperhead sun-bathing on a hiking trail. Communing with nature’s creatures, noticing where and how the live, is a source of curiosity and comfort to me. I like being reminded that humans are not the only ones occupying the planet, and enjoy getting to know all the birds, and animals, and reptiles that live in my neighborhood.

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