On a sunny day in July, a group of adjudicated teenagers in a Wolfcreek Wilderness program were having a blast going down the Chatooga River in canoes. Two other instructors and I had herded the group of ten down some fairly easy class two and three rapids, and we were relaxing, eddied out in a pool at the bottom of a run.
The kids were not novices on the water. This trip was a bonus rewarded to a group who had successfully navigated the Okmulgee/Altamaha from Hawkinsville to Darien, Georgia. This was their first trip to the mountains. All but two were city kids; most from the Atlanta metropolitan area.
At the edge of the pool, a rock cliff rose about 50 feet above us. It was covered with lichens and ferns, and nooks and crannies that were meant to be explored, carefully, by teenage boys.
Unbeknownst to one intrepid explorer, the cranny he eyeballed was currently occupied by a two and a half foot, spring-loaded water snake who did not intend to stay put and be prodded by a canoe paddle.
So he leapt, our snake, and by leapt, I mean ejected, evacuated, and escaped at a high velocity directly at the two threatening eyes now approaching his hideaway.
With the reflexes of youth our lad turns aside just barely in time to narrowly avoid a collision with the serpentine arrow, and with the exuberance of youth he then very determinantly steps out of the canoe and, I swear to you, walks on water a good three steps before sinking in. Into the water. With the snake.
I’ve never seen anyone moving that fast, or dog paddling that hard, around and around in circles, yelling at the top of his lungs but, we were relieved to see, somehow keeping his head above water.
We quickly got him to ground and calmed down, but I have to tell you something. You just cannot watch a guy jump out of a boat with a snake and then dog paddle in a circle without laughing some. More likely laughing a lot. Right then and there, want to or not. And then again later, and then years later. What has been seen cannot be unseen.
Fortunately the only wounds were perhaps our young friend’s pride, and only for a moment. He was quite the good sport about it.
To some Native Americans the snake symbolized transformation. In the Torah and in the Christian Bible the serpent promised wisdom. Among some Chinese there is the belief that the snake represents honor. But as long as you’re not the guy who jumped in a pool with a snake, the snake can also represent humor.
A funny thing, though. There are some pretty snaky strokes in the old symbols for karma in Sanskrit, and in the yin and yang of the Taoist. But in the North Georgia Mountains, judgement is mine, sayeth the Lord, and what goes around comes around.
It came around this very afternoon down by the creek. I was washing my hands at the edge of the water, on hands and knees, and the top of my head was about 6 inches from the rocky bank. When I looked up, there were two dark little obsidian eyes looking back at me from that same distance. They glared out over a little black tongue darting in and out like it was tasting the air.
I didn’t stick around to notice much more, and there must have been some kind of levitation involved in transporting me to the other side of the creek, without my knowledge or permission, that far and that fast. How quickly a large dose of adrenaline can set the body on automatic, autonomic pilot when the snake-to-face comfort perimeter is breached.
The snake never moved, but I certainly did, ejecting and evacuating from the scene, at a high velocity. So we have come full circle in a way. Laugh with me now, and help me pay the remaining balance on a laugh-karma loan that has been collecting interest for many fine years. May the circle be unbroken.