Before this all began, I dreamed of snakes again. In one dream, a fat black, rather short snake was above my closet on the wall and fell to the floor. I was considering putting a laundry basket over it so it didn’t escape into the house. Ten days later, I dreamed a snake had woven a small house of snakes for me, and in the confounding way of dreams, the snake was then a man doing the weaving, the house the size of a basketball, woven of small snakes. Five days later, I saw a serpent on our bedroom wall as I was falling asleep and realized that I was entering those other realms. This was all in February before I heard Covid-19 virus referred to as a “snake” virus. I decided this must have been the collective stimulus for the dreams and forgot them.
The next week we began sequestering: first, gatherings of friends and family canceled, even for Donald’s 88th birthday, and then the cancellation of our monthly writing group and the decision to carry on on Zoom. My daughter-in-law Melissa decided to no longer go to work driving tourists to wineries and then Casey and Melissa announced they were sequestering, even from Donald and me.
When you don’t fully take in the meaning of a dream, the unconscious often ups the ante. This was when the physical snakes started coming. First there was the large garter snake, at least three feet long, to my horror, slithering by one of the western doors of our home! Bramble Berry saw it first through the glass of the door. A small gopher snake was nearby, tangled in our laundry rack stationed outside the door. Karen, Donald’s helper, had stopped by to make a delivery and removed the gopher snake to the forest. But the garter snake slithered on, past the outside table into the landscaping. Donald would see it later basking on our kitchen doorstep.
Gary, who does some gardening and helps clean the goat and llama barns, discovered a very large gopher snake in Hilo’s shed (our llama) while he was cleaning it. Casey and the boys saw the snake again that evening as it disappeared into what appeared to be a hole in the shed’s wall. The next day Gary caught the snake as well as two more small and probably just hatched gopher snakes and removed them to other spots. The big one, at least three feet long, wrapped itself around his arm as he walked it down the driveway to a new location. One of the smaller ones dangled between his thumb and forefinger as its tongue sought answers for what was happening.
The most shocking experience occurred when I walked into the dining room to discover a ring-necked snake on the floor. I screamed. Bramble Berry went after it. My son Jesse, sequestering with us with his wife and newborn Grace, was on the phone, working from home. He immediately hung up. The startled snake crawled down the register. Both Jesse and I have that midwestern horror of serpents, and he wasn’t about to pick it up, nor was I. Were Casey here, and he wasn’t, he would have. Jesse killed the snake, apologizing to it over and over. It would have died in the vents. Besides, he explained, I would have forever thought of that snake in the vents. And he is correct.
And then, a few days later, when I went to feed the goats their evening meal, the large gopher snake was back, lying on the threshold of the goat barn. Casey tried to get it in a bucket to remove it to his yard (he would welcome it. The gophers are having a heyday.) However, the snake, slow and gentle as it also was, had no intention of being caught and instead slithered along the wall of my studio, right through my expensive Snake Guard pellets, and then into a hole in the stone wall of the path. He/she reappears daily at about 3 pm in the afternoon just before slowly heading out toward the goat barn.
I have had dreams of snakes at other times in my life, times always of great transition. We are there again. There is the collective transition that is so mysterious and, yes, frightening. We have no idea how long this virus will run its course and what the economic impact will be over time. We are truly in a dangerous time, a time the split between the haves and the have-nots appears to be broadening. Questions of personal rights versus the common good plague the conversation, and misguided people storm statehouses with automatic weapons, protesting shutdowns, and impingement on their freedoms. When did we stop caring about the whole? When did our ideas of personal rights and freedoms become so perverted to warrant this kind of display?
I ponder what is my own, individual transformation? I am of the age group most vulnerable. My husband is even more so, at 88 and in compromised health. My actions impact him. They impact anyone of us sequestering together. And I feel this great turning, see the clearer skies, the quieter environment. What is my task now? What can I do to assist this movement into a future in which we can coexist with our planet in ways we all thrive?
Snakes shed their skin to become larger. We as a nation have the opportunity to grow larger and more compassionate. To think about life in a bigger way, about others as much as ourselves. There is a dispassionate quality to snakes: no sentimentality. Just the life force, pushing forward. Governor Newsom’s budget has that dispassionate quality: so much has to be cut because we don’t have the money. Are we in a time we can champion the common good beyond all else, even beyond our own needs and wants? Can we do this for climate action?
The virus has been good for the climate, temporarily reducing carbon emissions by 17%. Skies have cleared over cities worldwide. We see what driving less and flying less does. This is the direction we have to go if we are going to spare the planet the worst of climate disruption. If humans continue on our planet.
For the time being, I accept that I need to coexist with the gopher snake. Friends and Casey tell me all the good things gopher snakes do. They eat gophers, rats, and mice, which reduce tick populations, and Lyme disease. They don’t bite. Better to have them here than dangerous rattlesnakes. A friend went so far to e-mail me, “Sounds like you have a treasure.”
Okay. I am careful when I walk out of my studio, and he/she is almost always there at 3 pm for 45 minutes. I live with the gift of the question: why this visitation? It is a mystery to me, this time. Amidst the economic and physical suffering, the planet is doing better. Will the snake, this charging life force, help me/us dispassionately shell old ideas and attitudes and grow into our larger selves?