Caution: Danger Ahead

The last couple of days, we’ve had this little ground squirrel coming up to scavenge under the bird feeder.

Yesterday, as I worked at my desk, I saw him behaving kind of oddly. He bristled his tail in the air and dropped to all fours, spreading his legs and stomping the ground in a wide stance. It looked territorial, but I couldn’t see what threatened him.

He stopped and went back to eating seeds and then did it again.

I’d about decided he was just engaged in some kind of ritual display, when I saw the red snake pop his head out of the gopher hole.

That same coachwhip snake we found under the garbage can a month ago. Or, at least, I assume it’s the same snake – he doesn’t have a nametag or anything.

For a while these two faced-off, back and forth. It really surprised me, the way the little rodent bravely stood up to the snake, backing it into the hole again.

Eventually the detente ended, as many do, due to outside events. Isabel captured another mouse and brought it to me. I had to take it out the front door and the ground squirrel ran off. Shortly after that, the snake came out of the hole and glided off into the desert.

I feel like I should make analogy here, about standing up to our fears, to what threatens us, but we do anyway, don’t we? People talk a lot about how you can’t run away from stuff, but most of the time, none of us have that luxury anyway.

You have a difficult co-worker or boss, you get to deal with them every work day. Petulant teenagers ooze their petulance over everyone in their paths, leaving their families glommed like birds in an oil spill. Appliances break, crises occur, deadlines loom – and we have to deal with them.

Maybe the little ground squirrel isn’t really brave – the snake is just something he had to deal with if he wanted to eat.

In the end, they both went their own ways.

Credit Where It Isn’t Due

We haven’t had a (serious) New Mexico wildlife shot in a while.

But now that the weather is warming up, the critters are starting to emerge again. This is a coachwhip snake. The photo doesn’t quite capture his lovely reds and pinks.

I got credit for first live snake spotting, much to David’s chagrin because he’s the king of snakes. (Isn’t there something biblical about that?)
No, seriously, in his misspent youth, David used to collect rattlesnakes for Reptile Gardens in South Dakota. For those who’ve never had the pleasure, Reptile Gardens is part zoo, part sideshow, part tourist trap. Kind of the biggest ball of twine of snakes.

And they paid by the pound. Not a bad gig for a nice kid from northern Wyoming with a knack for wildlife.

At any rate, David’s been revved to see the snakes of our new home, but so far had seen only one dead snake. I don’t get a bunch of credit for this one, though – when I rolled out the garbage can to stuff it full yard detritus, he was under there. Turns out they’re nocturnal snakes and not terribly fond of sunlight. He just laid there, all sleepy while I called David and the snake was duly identified and photographed.

It works that way sometimes – you get credit for luck, for happenstance, for stumbling upon something cool. And sometimes the things you labor over, hunt for, craft lovingly with care, no one ever cares about but you. The universe’s way of putting us in our place, I suppose.

One way to interpret the Tao Te Ching says that only those things achieved without effort are one with the Tao. The implication is also that only those things that are one with the Tao are valuable.

I think both points are debatable.

Really it all depends on what value you assign to the thing. Both what kind and how much. There’s something to be said for both the stories that drop into your lap and the ones you wrestle out of the ground. Other people may read them and assign their own values, but only the writer knows what the story means to her.

The wise writer would be thankful for both the gifts and the stories bought with blood.