The other day I took a little hike up a nearby canyon before work. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to walk in the mountains before a long day in a building. (The library where I work is a nice building, but it’s still inside.) I enjoyed the freshness of early morning breezes, of seeing the newly risen sun shining on the canyon walls and the valley below. Rock walls on my left and steep drops on my right were powerful and beautiful. I loved being able to look down and survey so much beauty below me. Although my legs walked me up the trail, at times my mind’s eye allowed me to soar, just a bit, over the canyon below.
It’s difficult to be in a timeless place while on a deadline, and I was so immersed in enjoying the present that looking at my watch gave me a jolt. I had to be to work in 45 minutes and I had a 30 minute walk back down the trail. I reluctantly, but quickly, turned and headed back.
Walking around a rock where the trail was a sheer cliff above and a steep drop below, I was startled to see…
this snake! Not a rattler, but serpentine nonetheless; it was basking in the cool shade of the trail. Leaping over it was not an option–my mind’s-eye wings wouldn’t be of any help. I looked at snake. Snake looked at me. As we looked into each others eyes, there wasn’t enmity—only curiosity.
Communication was rather difficult. I don’t speak snake, and he wasn’t able to read my mind, which was saying something like, “Go away. Please. Go away now. Try going down the cliff. Go someplace. Any place. But not here.”
The snake looked back at me with a rather calm, “well I was here first,” look.
So I gently tossed a small stone near him, thinking perhaps this nonverbal message would convey my desire for movement on his part.
Finally I looked right at him, and intensely and pleadingly thought, “If you slither off to that side of the path, you could slide through those steep rocks, and I will slowly and gently move myself against the cliff and we could each be on our way.”
It seemed to make sense to the snake, and as he silently slithered southward, I cautiously moved northward. We became an unlikely duo in a delicate dance. As I passed him, I looked back, he glanced up at me as if to say, “thank you for your cooperative partnership.” I smiled and continued on my way.
I contemplated our non-threatening cooperative encounter and considered those “coexist” bumper stickers—the ones with various religious symbols spelling out the word. We need to coexist on many different levels. I’ve thought of making my own interspecies “coexist” stickers—perhaps with a bear, deer, snake, spider, and bee.
Maybe I have an inner streak of pacifistic Buddhism in me, but I really don’t like wantonly destroying creatures. Especially those with whom I truly can coexist.
Deer and spiders, for instance, aren’t out to get me, they’re just doing their deerlike and spidery thing. I shoo the deer from my garden, I put up protective screening when I can. I put a cup over spiders that I find in my home, slide a paper under it and carry the bug to the door, introducing it to a larger and better world.
As newlyweds, my husband and I had a small garden area in the university’s student housing cooperative garden. I planted a few extra things on our garden’s perimeter, explaining to the insects, “this part is for you, and that area inside is for me.” Our plants were some of the least bug-bitten in the area.
In my individual and small way, I hope to add to the collective consciousness of other creatures that humans aren’t inherently harmful. So far I’ve had pretty good luck when confronting other species. I really do hope we can coexist; can find something to appreciate about each other, and continue, unharmed and perhaps enlightened, on our way.