Thursday, April 8, 2010

Appreciations (22) … Snake in the path!

Appreciations (22) … Snake in the path!
Torrey Orton
April 8, 2010

Mistaking a snake for a stick? …you might wonder?

Appreciating a snake in the path is a bit odd unless you've done something like this: wandering down a dirt fire track 1 kilometre from our parked car on an early Sunday afternoon three weeks ago talking with Jane about something important we thought and suddenly detecting a fat black tree branch with a strange tip - the head of a snake I eventually realised - only a foot away from my next step…. Not your common garden variety but one of Australia's contributions to the troops of really dangerous fanged foragers…at about 1.3 meters, a well developed specimen...and, it was out in the open in clear light and we had missed it as we walked up onto it from 100 metres away with a clear view all the way until stumbling into the preceding events.

"Aaaah…" I gasped with arms thrown back and drawing myself up from the shoes in retracting my next step, as it was a slight lift into execution, before it fell on the snake's tail emerging into my vision and realising that Jane was a half step in front of me heading for the biter's mid-flank, and also not seeing it, I started saying "Back, back" which stopped her just before she would have been too close not to land a foot on its back…and so it glided off the road and into the edging forest without a backwards glance.

On reflection a few minutes later I noticed that my entire response had been without any palpable rise in heart rate, or tensing of muscles apart from those involved in the rising "Aaaah". Strange ways the body/mind.

Not mistaken, just missed
Or like this: 15 years ago, wandering down an old 1.5 meter deep by 2 meter wide grassy, overarched by light brush and trees, loggers' tramway cutting some K's from another car park in the second or third growth forested outer reaches of Melbourne (60+ K's from the GPO), Jane in front and me two meters behind hearing a stick crunch lightly under boot and sensing, barely seeing, something dark and ropey rise into the air a few feet to my right rear, and responding soundlessly but automatically with a jump myself which got me up to a height equal to the ropey thing, which turned out to be a large black snake, or close enough to scare the whatevers out of me, giving my heart rate a serious lift at the same time!
…a story I'd have told a dozen times, mostly to impressionable foreigners like myself who did not grow up with tiger snakes or their peers in the backyard, as many inhabitants of Australian cities do. I'd never seen a poisonous snake until coming here, though I knew (I thought) they inhabited the woods of Massachusetts (timber rattlers), not that I or anyone I knew or heard of had ever seen one in 1950 or '60!! But then in those days I didn't see racoons, wolves or bears in the woods either. They weren't there to see maybe, but they certainly are now a reliable source has been telling me for years since then.

Outdone, again…
However, someone else always has a better snake story, like this: a friend's wife found herself eyeing a large black snake in their backyard, shouting quietly that the thing was a danger and trying to shoo it away while holding it tightly in place with her left foot which was firmly planted on its tail. She hadn't noticed the tail and so her fear mounted as the snake stayed put and reared up with vengeful non-verbals. Her husband intervened with a strong right hand and pulled her of the offended tail, allowing all to move on into peaceful distances from each other.

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