Friday, May 29, 2009

Even Severed Heads Can Bite

by Dee Newman

For those of you who do not know, I live atop a narrow ridge over-looking the Harpeth River valley in middle Tennessee in a hand-hewn log house I designed and helped construct.

Early, one spring morning, I was reconnecting the hot and cold waterlines that lead to the old claw-foot-bathtub and shower that sits on the deck just outside my kitchen window. To reach the lines I had to prop-up and climb a ladder against the house.

As I backed down the ladder, after completing the connections, I was surprised by something that I had not initially seen coiled-up at the foot of the ladder – a very large copperhead.

Fortunately, it had been a cool night and the morning sun had not, as yet, awakened the snake’s metabolism. With a great deal of care and caution, I slowly stepped off the ladder and backed away from the unconscious copperhead.

Standing there contemplating the situation, I soon realized that the snake needed to be moved to a new location and that the longer I waited the more difficult the removal would be.

Thinking logically (?), I reasoned that as long as it remained in a lethargic state, it might be possible to simply scoop it up and carry it off to the nearby woods.

Looking to my right, I noticed my long-handle hoe hanging on the side of the house. It was not ideal for the operation but I thought it might be sufficient.

With a great deal of care and dexterity, I slowly moved the working-end of the hoe beneath the snake. To my surprise, it remained unresponsive (as if it were dead), which, I must confess, provided me the necessary motivation to go on with the mission.

Gradually, I began to lift the coiled-creature from its resting place. Though the snake’s body began to slowly rap-around the hoe handle, it remained relatively relaxed.

It was not until I was about halfway to the edge of the woods that the cold-blooded creature’s temperature warmed sufficiently enough to revive its survival instincts and aggressive character.

Instead of dropping off the end of the hoe and slithering away, the four-foot-long pit viper began to move up the hoe-handle towards me. Suddenly, my survival instincts kicked-in and using the hoe-handle as a catapult, I flung the large reptile into the air. It landed a good fifteen feet from me.

Now, I realize that what I am about to tell you will be difficult for many of you to believe. For some reason beyond my understanding that snake decided that it wanted a piece of me. With the speed of a blue-tail-skink, the likes of which I had never before or since witnessed from any snake, that damn copperhead came at me with a vengeance. I did not have time to even blink, let alone, turn and run.

My reaction was purely defensive. I had no desire to harm the copperhead. I had risked my life and limb, by trying to transport that dangerous and venomous reptile to another location.

So, when I swung the hoe that was still clutched in my hands at the snake to defensively ward off its attack, it was purely an accident that I severed its head from its body.

In fact, if I had been truly trying to accomplish such a feat, I would have, most likely, missed the snake entirely.

Nevertheless, though it was neither my motive nor my intent, I must confess, I did kill the copperhead. I am guilty of taking the life of another living sentient creature. And, for that, I am deeply sorry.

The moral to this story may seem evident to many of you. But, if it is not, please allow me to offer my observations.

No matter how pure your motives may be, actions always have consequences. So, before you act, take some time to ponder the possible ramifications of your deeds, whether your motives are bad or good. And remember, there’s no telling how others may react to your kindness. Not even you best friend can truly know what is in your heart and vice versa.

There is a postscript: Bites from any pit viper may prove to be fatal; even severed heads can bite.

So remember, consequences can last a long time. What you believe to be dead and gone may come back to bite you when you least expect it.

1 comment:

Dee Newman said...

The snake narrative is a powerful contrast to the ethical principle. It juxtaposes something naturally fearful and symbolic of threat and harm against "thou shalt not kill"---anything if you can help it.

The natural instinct (what we're taught) is to escape the snake or kill it, not try to save it at one's risk, as you did.

But then to contemplate one's role in its mistaken murder creates a crisis of conscience, as you experienced.

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Had your encounter been with a turtle, the ethical contrast would not have been as great. The guilt, accepting the responsibility for the serpent's death, is a higher ethical study. Synonyms for snake are: traitor, turncoat, Judas, evildoer, rascal, miscreant, double-crosser.

We don't apologize normally for hostility toward 'snakes'.

As I said, thoughty (Colbertism).