By Glenda | July 7, 2009

There’s a snake in the Garden of Eden. A fat copperhead. And I myself must not amount to much because he was not startled enough even to bother to bite me. Instead he sidled away, s-wise, slowly, scaly belly to the fertile ground, while I froze in place, my hand on a broad squash leaf about a foot from his then disappearing head.

Freezing in place, of course, long-term, for me is, now, the biggest temptation, aged seventy and suddenly counting. Easy to give in.

For, oh, yes, he tempted me, the snake. For hours, later, far into the dark night, long after he had coiled down somewhere underground, he spoke, his sibilant voice making me shudder and quake and, yes, think to freeze in place. Permanently. Thus:

“Oh, just give it up. Give it all up. It’s all just, frighteningly, too, too much. Not just the garden, everything. So much work. No rain. For what? A few vegetables? Who cares? Who cares about anything you do? Do you really think you benefit anyone with your stubborn on-goingness, with your persistent presence in people’s lives, with your reaching deep into the uncertain dense canopy of, say, cucumber leaves, or, say, minds, to pull up, in hand, perchance, not a cucumber, but a writhing six-foot water moccasin, its gleaming, all-seeing eyes set square back on its black, triangular head, seething with poisonousness? Give up. It’s too much. All too much. Useless. Dangerous. Exhausting. Enervating. Meaningless. Hopeless.”

So speaks this snake, the one coiled in my head.

The real one was, perhaps, actually kindly, a fat red fellow. He didn’t bite me. He could have. Easily. Important it is, to distinguish him from the him in my head, that one full of archetype, myth, misery.

The snake in Eden, proverbial, also said “give up,” another kind. The message then was give up peace and contentment coming from awareness that enough is enough. The temptation then was to give up remembrance of the law of diminishing returns.

For wasn’t Eve, and then Adam, tempted to want more than the perfect abundance they had, more, and then, surely, more, and more? And wasn’t Jesus tempted in the desert to want three times more, not just of the gifts he already had and had to give, but more? And haven’t we too, today, recently been cast out of our financial garden of plenty due to our insatiable desire, we Adams and Eves of industry, finance, commerce, whatever; all of us, wanting always more and more? Our culture gave up enough, perhaps, and gratitude, in exchange for greed, and now we have tasted knowledge, surely, of loss, despair.

Ah, but, snake. I see you now in the light of a new day and in another way. You, again, slough off your skin for me to see a different stripe. Think. Without you rats would overrun. Without you, I wouldn’t shudder in the night considering dreads innumerable. Eventualities and consequences might escape notice, without your sudden sharp upbringing of attention, without your reminder that where I step or move matters. You jolt me awake to remember this. You remind me well to take care, beware, be watchful, and to move slowly enough to notice that freezing in place, momentarily, or, at least, becoming quite still, occasionally, has its proper use, and giving up some things, the right things, can a blessing be. Giving up pride or arrogance, let us say, or even righteous certainty, or intolerance, or prejudice, or divisiveness, or provincialism, or forcefulness. Give those up. Yes. Today. Otherwise hubris might triumph, and war could make sense, if only it seemed to benefit me and never mind the consequence. Give those up, yes.

So, snake. You too, rightly seen, can serve the common cause of wholeness. Your place in the scheme of things is not my favorite, snake, but honor you I must. You remind me that I am not the center of the universe, and you make me see how easily I can be tempted to over-reach, to misstep, to assume, to take for granted, to forget that other creatures matter, even those unseen, and other things, unknown, unimagined even, and other cultures, so dangerously different, count as much as me.

So, today, here, I do gratefully give thanks for being spared your worst, and, more, for the tempering thoughts you bring, and for remembering that I have enough, and plenty, really.

And I do give thanks for all the rest—for those golden squash among which you moved, and for fat tomatoes, red like you, and for berries, and cucumbers and basil, and cilantro and parsley and sage, and earth and water and wind, and sun and strength, and hope and consequence and promise, and, oh, always, balance.

And, so, yes, of course, I give thanks, snake, for you.

And, as for that—of the good, and of my abiding love for life itself, and of my own life, lowly though it be, and of awareness of the connectedness of all things, and of the meaningfulness of mystery, and of hope for the future, I do not, I do not, of these I do not give up. I do not give up.

Smile, archetypal snake; your work’s well done.

4 comments | Add One

  1. LindiBear - 07/7/2009 at 8:29 pm

    blessings to you and all the love / beauty you find in this world of our using. gratitude to the reminders to continue anew.

  2. Jim Hare - 07/8/2009 at 4:13 am

    Snake awakened.

  3. Carol Henderson - 07/8/2009 at 1:46 pm

    Knowing as I do how great your fear of snakes is (mine, too) I can only imagine the sense of shock you felt when seeing our old dragon, snake. Weak kneed, no doubt, unable to move …just as well, my dear … obviously in this case the best thing you could have done … and look ..just look at the wonderful words that spill forth from you deep deep well of wisdon … inspired by a surprise visit from snake … I am so grateful for your sharing these thoughts, words, truths … So clearly I remember your talk, many years ago, about snakes and how as long ago as ‘always’ humans have tried to rid the world of snakes and yet, they abound. and insist on scaring the bejesus out of some of us … So, we must go about our life in the world knowing full well that there are snakes (not only physically in the garden, but metaphorically elsewhere) in some of the least likely places … and to be cautious. As one who once lived a rather in-cautious life, this understanding was good medecine for me. And your words were indeed true … then as now.
    Snakes in the garden of eden and elsewhere … Yes, of course … we must give thanks for snake as she heightenes our awareness of life itself.
    Thank you, my friend, for your words, your life, your good health, and your willingness to share all of this with all of us …
    Deep love to you always .. Carol

  4. Anna Beatty - 07/9/2009 at 8:24 am

    I can’t remember a time of being particularly afraid of snakes. Wary and aware, but not afraid. I once found one in my house in Maryland and chopped it in two with a garden hoe. it may have been a water moccasin–or not. The ones I’ve seen in my yard, I leave alone.

    There’s a peacock I now call “Pea Brain” because he eats herbs and landscape plants I’ve nurtured. He took up with us following Tropical Storm Allison and I did some research. One of the things they like to eat is snakes–even poisonous ones. They are said to be “a delicacy.” I haven’t seen any snakes in my grass lately.

    Anyway, archetypal serpents aside, here is what I’ve learned about snakes. One of my teachers, Beverly Antaeus, said of the rattlers that might lurk in the tall grass at a camp site on the bank of the Missouri River in Montana: If you hear the sound of the rattle, you are hard-wired to do the exactly right thing which is to freeze. The snake uses its venom for prey. it knows you are too big to eat and doesn’t want to waste venom on you, so it will probably go away. If it doesn’t, back away slowly.

    And, from the herpetologist at the Herman Park Zoo a couple of decades ago to an assembly of delinquents at the Harris County Youth Village: No one has died of snake bite in Harris County in the 60 years we’ve been keeping track. Don’t cut into the would and try to suck out the venom; go to the nearest hospital. He also dismissed the lethality of coral snakes, saying no one is just going to stand there and let it gnaw–which is what it has to do to deliver its nerve toxin.

    I guess there’s a message or two here somewhere. 1. When something toxic latches onto you, don’t let it gnaw at you. 2. Your body knows what to do in the presence of danger.

    We need a new mythology of the serpent. Some dragons have been known to harbor jewels.

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