Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

THE TIMBER RATTLESNAKE WASN’T LYING IN LURK hoping to find some unsuspecting human to bite. If so, he would have been coiled and ready to spring up, striking an ankle, back of the knee, or femoral artery.

He was stretched out full length, interposed between the asphalt driveway and some low bushes gone wild, thinking, I suppose, that he was completely hidden and safe.

When we arrived Thursday evening, Buck had backed the van into an asphalted extension of the driveway that provides a smooth pathway to the front door, and makes unpacking an easier task. There wasn’t much room on the driver’s side for walking without stepping on the crown vetch which had been hydroseeded years ago to prevent erosion.

We talked and laughed Friday afternoon as we locked the front door, preparing to go down the hill to pick up our stack of mail from the post office, stop by the moving company’s warehouse to pick up packing boxes, and go to the Ingles grocery store in Canton. Buck walked briskly to the van, opened the driver’s side door, stepped up — then hesitated — “I forgot the part,” (a replacement for some minor repair to a bathroom sink). . . and he stepped back down to the asphalt.

I was on the other side of the van, about to get in, when I heard him utter a short, but emphatic, string of expletives. Reversing course, I walked to the back of the van and we met as he was motioning me over and pointing at ground near the van’s door. “I almost stepped on that big snake,” he said.

I’ve read the expression about someone’s heart being in their mouth. Now I know how it feels.

Only the last foot of the snake was visible, well-fed and tipped with six rattles. He began to move, slowly disappearing into the vetch.

There was a dangerous moment, when Buck’s life was endangered and so was the snake’s. Time stopped for a minute. My head buzzed. I had to fight the desire to take a weedeater to the hillside. And then we continued on with our day.

Life is like that. There is always a piano hanging out a window tethered by defective rope just waiting for some unsuspecting mortal whistling a tune as she walks down the sidewalk to walk under it just at the moment the edges fray.

Death is what we live with. What we try to live with without going crazy. Our own death. Inevitable. Witness how old friends deal with aging and imminent death. Generally speaking, not a pretty sight. See the snake in the grass and know your number is not yet up. Just a friendly reminder that it is flashing on some cosmic screen.

Like that snake, there are threats all about. By the same token, there are dazzling gifts, too. All are there to help me solve the puzzle. Just because I don’t always see or find them doesn’t mean they aren’t there for me.


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