Watch for Snakes

I loaded up the truck and headed down the road the other day to do some property maintenance. I was carrying a tool bag and a socket set, a steel tamping rod and half a bag of Sackrete for straightening up some road signs. I had a gas string trimmer with a container of fuel and a few bottles of Gatorade.

About ten minutes into the job I discovered I needed a metal shim. That’s the way we roll in the country. We do a lot of jobs that require adaptability as much as precision, so back down the road I went.

As I pulled up into the driveway I slowed down when I saw something shiny and black stretched across my path. It was Irving, the friendly neighborhood Black Racer who catches mice around the barn. We exchanged greetings as I walked by on my way to the shop to get the shim and wait for him to exit the driveway.

I’m not an expert on snake logic, so I have no idea why Irving decided to reverse course and park himself under my truck. Maybe he liked the shade, but the sun was creeping higher in the sky and I prefer to carry a gas powered trimmer under more acute angles of illumination. I went back to the shop to get the leaf blower to see if that might convince Irving to move along.

I peeked under the truck and before I could pull the trigger on the leaf blower, I saw Irving climbing up to position himself somewhere on top of the axle. The first beads of sweat began to form under my hat.

We’ll pause right here to have a word with a few of you who mumbled something about “running over that snake” when I first saw him. Irving is one of God’s creatures too, and a valuable mouse and copperhead-eating part of our ecosystem. If you’re the kind of person who runs over every snake he sees, stay off of my road. We might be friends, but you’re not getting invited to the barbecue.

It was obvious that the sun was going to insist on moving higher in the sky, so I dragged out the garden hose to see if a little cold water would convince Irving to move along. After about 10 minutes, the undercarriage of the truck was very clean but Irving was still out of sight.

The truck was blocking the driveway, so I popped it into neutral and pushed it into the shade and out of the way. Then I proceeded to transfer all of my tools into the back of the van. With a few select Parseltongue invectives for Irving, I headed back down the road to finish my chores.

A few hours later, sun soaked and thirsty, I backed the van into the driveway and proceeded to unload. As I carried the last tool back to the shop I glanced at the truck in time to see Irving drop onto the ground and head purposefully toward the barn. “Thanks for helping me work on my tan this morning, old buddy!” I said to him.

Personally, I’ve never seen the Serpent of the Bible as a snake. Snakes don’t traffic in apples, or pomegranates, which is a more likely fruit for that part of the world. If the forbidden fruit was knowledge, however, all bets are off.

The Cherokee, according to my old friend known as Black Moon Turtle, had a different view of snakes. According to Turtle, snakes were seen, not as signs of evil, but as harbingers of change. I don’t know if that’s historically true or not. Every medicine man has his own ideas, but it’s a safe bet in a world that changes as much as hours, and any reminder to watch our step is good advice.

Perhaps’s Irving’s message was a reminder to know when to accept change. The oldest and most enduring wisdom is in agreement on that. Eastern traditions hold that, while change often causes pain, it is the resistance to change that causes suffering. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

I think Irving dropped by to remind us how to navigate this time of extraordinary and unavoidable change. So far, we’re doing well here at home. While we don’t exactly embrace all the changes (we’re not snake huggers, in case you were wondering), we’re learning to accept them.

For example, the number of times we eat out is a fraction of what it used to be, but we have a lot more money because of that, and much to my wife’s delight, I’ve discovered a new interest in cooking. My shepherd’s pie last week was outstanding, and by the way, Jamie Oliver is a great friend to guys who like to eat well but don’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

In the combination of more time and fewer or slower services, we’re also finding opportunities to do more things ourselves rather than paying to have them done. I replaced the carburetor, fuel pump and idler arms on the DR mower myself, rather than taking it to be repaired. I’m building the chickens a veritable palace to live in this winter. We’re enjoying more fresh produce harvested from the garden, and we’ve both gotten more fit this summer rather than wearing out the upholstery on the couch.

Also, the shortages and criminally high prices at the grocery have inspired us to seek out new sources of food and supplies locally and online, and we’ve found better quality at the same or even lower price.

Some of this is not good news for restaurants and other businesses that depend on doing things for people that they don’t have time or inclination to do for themselves. Much of our economy has been built on monetizing distractions for those of us who are hurried and worried, and gratification for those of us who are lazy. Change, for these enterprises, will continue to be painful.

However, we can already observe the enterprises that have accepted or embraced unavoidable change. New ideas are popping up every day. A healthy economy and a vigorous society must allow for creative destruction, and for this time in our lives, the myths of the Cherokee and the wisdom of Irving seem much more useful that the myths and incantations of politics.

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