Storytelling and Farming

Publication Date: June 15
Leaping Goat Press



Farming and storytelling go together. Is it the quiet that allows the imagination to stretch, feeling into all that is possible, or might be, or was?

I walked too late this morning. The sun was out and the temperature had already reached 80º, snake time. I almost stepped on a gopher snake, and screamed! As happy as I am to see them in the vineyard (they help control gopher populations) I would rather not step on them. Of course, Ramon heard this and came running. “This one is an adolescent,” he said, “but there are some really big ones out here, thick as your wrist, longer than your leg, and they won’t move. If you try to nudge them away, they huff! and stay put.”

Ramon has told me many snake stories from his early years in Mexico, and now he is primed for another. “The male gopher snake likes women,” he begins. “You hear this odd whistle,” and he makes an eerie whistling noise, “and if you turn around, you will see him extend himself up three feet and dance.”

I laugh.

“No, really!” he defends.

But the warm sun changes reality a little, as does the smell of the freshly cut grass under my feet, and in my mind’s eye I can see the snake standing on his tail and waving sensuously from side to side.

My farming family also loved to tell snake stories. They arrived in Illinois in the early 1840’s when most of the land was marsh and prairie, and there were a lot of snakes! Unfortunately in these stories the snake seldom fares well. The stories are of sudden surprise and then triumph over the serpent, but they also have deep roots in the collective psyche of my ancestors. I have come to see snake mythology and legend as a collective dream about our relationship to Spirit of Place, often depicted as a serpent (genius loci).

In the next two weeks I will be sending a special offer as I republish Snakes: A Novel, a transformative story that developed out of the many snake stories I have been told.  Stay tuned!