This week I am experimenting with the epistolary form. I intend to write a letter a day and post it here.
You are not the first rattlesnake I’ve met. A few of your kind held me hostage one summer in my home in big Sur. One gave birth, live birth – I’m impressed, right outside my door. That mother took to the shade of the barn door a few steps from my front door, and when I tried to leave she came out and hissed. Funny how your hiss sounds just like a spray of water escaping from a hose. I waited inside the house, hoping she would leave but she was joined by 2 other snakes. They formed a triangle in front of my door, a warning triangle, almost as stern a warning as the characteristic shape of your head. “Get a bucket of ice water and throw it on top of the snakes,” one friend said. “They don’t like cold water. They’ll curl up and you’ll be safe and then you can leave,” he said. But I would still have had to come back, and who knows how many more would have joined the reptile army? So I stayed inside instead and read a book.
Get a burlap sack, make it damp, and throw it in your direction, the man from vector control suggested last month, when I asked him how to usher you along your way. “And what good will that do?” I asked my expert. I’m told the dark, warm, sun-steamed sack would have seduced you into leaving your natural habitat beneath the brush, or even have tempted you out of the burrow you followed the no-longer-gopher into a few Fridays ago. “And then?” I asked the expert, who later mailed me photos of your kind, who knows why, and first-aid instructions in case you might bite. Thank you, by the way, for not retaliating when I accidentally dropped those daisy heads right on top of your head. My intention was to dead-head the flowers in my garden, not you. Not then at least.
“When he crawls into the sack, pick it up and take the rattler away.” The snake man said. “Where to?” I asked.” I don’t know. Just somewhere else.” He said. “Like my neighbor’s garden?” I jest. And so, not willing to trap and remove you in a sack, or even grab a spade – the wise man’s next suggestion, and chop off your head, you are still with us, a guest among my flowers.
When I startled you with daisies you raised your head, and your little tongue danced in and out testing the air for prey or danger. I backed away. Slowly. I went to fetch my camera. When you curled up and settled down again, camouflaged in the wood chips, I looked for you and snapped a shot and posted you on Facebook. Some people “liked” you. I saw your cushiony imprint under the lavender just now. At night I spray my sheets with lavender scent and snuggle down, a little like you, and I long for the peace of undisturbed sleep.
You were not what I expected, when I left my home in London and moved to California. Snakes like you do not slither-slide side after side along the underground tracks among the rats. I was not prepared for your diamond back, the risk of your venom. We had talked of earthquakes, my American fiancé and I. We had planned for shaking buildings, gathered emergency supplies of food and water. We planned for sun and warmth, even temperatures topping one hundred. We planned for fire and flood. We did not buy a snake kit. I did not expect to have to worry more than most about the risk of an attack from your kind. I did not know before I got here what poison already existed in my body. I do not get the warning rush of adrenaline a sighting of you should cause. I did not expect to have a kidney and an adrenal gland removed. I did not expect that tumor.I travel cautiously in my garden now, even announce my presence. I stamp my feet, call out “snake, I’m coming.” My intention is not to surprise you, but to give us both fair warning. We need to share this place, this space. We need to share the beauty.
When you are sleeping tucked beneath the daisies, I watch you from a distance. I look for the beauty in the skin you shed, in your reinvention-resurrection. Like you I feel the warmth of summer sun, and when I’ve had enough of scorching skin, I too search for the shade, a place where I can hide, a place where I can shed a skin, can camouflage, where I too can adjust and change.