Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thirsty Snakes

Walking to the river I catch a sideways glimpse of stripes in the grass. A 1.5 metre Carpet Python is lying slightly curled on the edge of the nature strip. It is dead. A victim of what I imagine is road kill. Last week it was a smallish brown tree snake that lay dead on the roadside verge.

Some time ago I read a deeply moving story by the wonderful Barry Lopez about how he was on his way to visit a friend by car. He stopped so often to bury the dead animals he found lying on the road that he arrived at his destination very very late. All day, as he drove, his journey was interupted by roadkill. He would stop the car, carefully lift the animals off the road and bury them with an apology which signifies, he says, 'an act of respect, a technique of awareness' (Lopez, 1998:114).

In an interview about his writing Lopez is asked about why he does this. Here is part of the conversation about his story 'Apologia' in his exquisite book About this Life (1998).

'You call it an act of respect or awareness. ... I've had the habit for so long I don't know where it started. It bothered me to have animals lying out there on the road and being hit repeatedly by automobile traffic. I wrote the piece that you refer to because it involves a moral dilemma. How have we gotten ourselves into this position is on my mind often, and what we can do about it. When that piece appeared, I probably got more mail about it than any other piece I ever published in Harper's. Much of the mail was from people who said, "I'm bothered by this too, and I too take animals off the road, and I'm glad to know that there's someone who does this." One reason for including that piece in the collection was the amount of passion I felt in the letters I got when it first appeared.'

Because of the drought many creatures are coming into the city and into people's gardens looking for water. The snakes may have been visiting garden ponds and other water features or are just out on the prowl as the weather has warmed substantially. On one hand I love it that there are wild creatures still living in the heart of the city, on the other I am sad that living in the city presents dangers not found in the wild. As Barry Lopez comments: 'We're an anesthetized culture. We have gotten ourselves into a situation where we're able to live with comfort around carnage.'

Lopez's words shimmer with deep understanding of the kinship between human and nature and the struggle to deal with the paradoxes embedded in this world.

The river is calling.

An Interview with Barry Lopez, 1998, KUSP, May 25, Capitola Book Cafe,
Lopez B, 1998, 'Apologia,' in About this Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory, New York, Random House.