One of my favorite hikes in the Pisgah National Forest is the John Rock Loop, a 5 mile trail that climbs roughly 1,200 feet. I like it not because it is 5 miles long, that sucks or because you have to hike up 1,200 feet, that hurts. I like it because of the view you get when you stand on top of John Rock. In a word it is spectacular. See for your self.
My wife and I are built very differently. She is long and lean like a Greyhound, I am tall and big-boned like a Clydesdale. As such our “hiking” gaits differ dramatically, she glides, I lumber. We get to the same place just at different times but I always remind her, I have the car keys.
Sunday as we were thankfully headed down hill she was walking about fifteen feet in front of me. The trail bent to the right and she stepped out of my view and then we heard it, the very distinctive sound of a rattlesnake. I have never seen this women that I have spent the last 32 years with move so fast. I asked her one simple question, “Were you bitten?” Her response, “BITTEN, BITTEN BY WHAT? WHAT WAS THAT? WAS THAT A SNAKE?” I told her to sit tight, never a good thing to tell a hysterical women and watched a four-foot long Timber Rattlesnake gracefully move through the leaves.
I am not afraid of snakes. I have handled Black snakes, Garter snake and Grass snakes. I have swam with Water Moccasins and I killed a Copperhead just last month to protect my dogs and the kids next door but I have never seen a rattlesnake in the wild. Now I have.
I am fascinated by snakes. I love their symbolism and mythology. In my mind snakes are the perfect creation despite God’s curse to “crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live.” Here is what struck me about our encounter with God’s cursed creature, he or she seemed to be doing just fine with all that Biblical shit hanging over its head.
The motion, and emotion of this marvelous creature was amazing to watch. He kindly and thankfully gave my wife notice to stay the hell out of his way and then went about his business without concern or worry as some big dumb ass, me, tried to get close enough to take a picture while his wife yelled at him.
I have a sign in my garage that states “I’m pretty sure my last words will be hold my beer and watch this.” This felt like one of those moments as I navigated up a hillside through the thick Mountain Laurel to get a close-up with my iPhone as my wife screamed at me that she “Couldn’t and wouldn’t” carry me down the mountain if I got bitten. Remember, Greyhound and Clydesdale. I didn’t get the picture I wanted.
I saw a Timber Rattlesnake Sunday, a beautiful but deadly creature. I was a guest in its world, an uninvited guest, an unwelcomed guest. Humans think that animals like this snake should co-exist with us but in truth we must learn to co-exist with them or risk losing their beauty, their importance, and their balance. This is the zen of a Rattlesnake, a creature of being, existing in the moment, at this moment, with us and without us.