Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Corn Snake of Edward Abbey

I am fortunate to be given books on a regular basis. Good friend, Sawyer Avery, recently lent me a copy of Edward Abbey's 'Desert Solitaire', a collection of stories recounting the author's time working in Arches National Monument near Moab, Utah, anytime between the late 60's to mid-70's. Like all great nature writing, the book served as a daily reminder of humans' strong tether to Mother Nature, in all of her beauty and destructive power; she is like Brahma and Shiva. As much concrete as we put down, as many walls are built, and no matter how tight we sardine ourselves into metal contraptions, we are still irrevocably a part of her. She is not something to be conquered.

Below are two sections I will have with me always. Fellow Iowans, you will know the gopher snake as the bull snake. Same thing.

The gopher snake and I get along nicely. During the day he curls up like a cat in the warm corner behind the heater and at night he goes about his business. The mice, singularly quiet for a change, make themselves scarce. The snake is passive, apparently contented, and makes no resistance when I pick him up with my hands and drape him over an arm or around my neck. When I take him outside into the wind and sunshine his favorite place seems to be inside my shirt, where he wraps himself around my waist and rests on my belt. In this position he sometimes sticks his head out between shirt buttons for a survey of the weather, astonishing and delighting any tourists who may happen to be with me at the time. The scales of a snake are dry and smooth, quite pleasant to the touch. Being a cold-blooded creature, of course, he takes his temperature from that of the immediate environment - in this case my body.

And on the mutual agreement between life and death:

The horned owl may be the natural enemy of the rabbit but surely the rabbit is the natural friend of the horned owl. The rabbit feeds the owl. One can imagine easily the fondness, the sympathy, the genuine affection with which the owl regards the rabbit before rending it into edible portions.
Is the affection reciprocated? In that moment of truce, of utter surrender, when the rabbit still alive offers no resistance but only waits, is it possible that the rabbit also loves the owl? We know that the condemned man, at the end, does not resist but submits passively, almost gratefully, to the instruments of his executioner. We have seen millions march without a whimper of protest into an inferno. Is it love? Or only teamwork again - good sportsmanship?
Fear betrays the rabbit to the great horned owl. Fear does the hard work, making the owl's job easy. After a lifetime of dread it is more than likely that the rabbit yields to the owl during the last moment with a sense of gratitude, as pleased to be eaten - finally! - as the owl is to eat. For the one a consummation, for the other fulfillment. How can we speak of natural enemies in such a well-organized system of operations and procedures? All the time, everywhere, something or someone is dying to please.