It was this time of year, several years ago (thank God), the most perfect spring day, bright, clear, warm, peaceful.
All was right with the world, and Roberto and I had come back from the Farmers Market with flowers to plant. We walked into the back yard and found a good spot under a big pinon tree. One of the plastic pots of flowers I was holding slipped onto the ground with a small thud. I leaned down to pick it up, and as I did I heard movement in the tree above us. I looked up, anticipating a bird, maybe a cat, maybe a dead branch. Roberto looked up, too. In perfect unison we inhaled sharply.
“Oh my God!” he exhaled.
My first sounds were not intelligible. In the tree, moving horizontally, very fast was a huge, pink snake. It shot from one tree to the next, trying to escape my shrieks which had found words.
“It’s pink! It’s pink!” was all I could say. I was frozen, wailing, “It’s pink! It’s pink!”
My shouts of “It’s pink” were more frantic. Trying to calm me down Roberto said quietly, “I think I better get a shovel and chop its head off.”
“It’s pink!” was all I could answer.
As Roberto turned to get the shovel, it lowered itself to the ground, and slithered off out of sight. My mind was still reeling from this assault on my understanding of reality. It was pink, like bubblegum. Was it bubblegum? No, bubblegum doesn’t move by itself. It was pink like a newborn baby. Was it a baby? No, not in a tree. A newborn baby wouldn’t be in a tree. It was fast, and it was in a tree. It must be a bird? No, not with that long gyrating, pulsating, slithering body. Surely it was a snake, but why was it in a tree? Was I in Guatemala or Viet Nam? No, I was in my back yard. And, why was it pink, and with no snake marking, just solid pink. Was it a newborn baby snake, and then it would darken and get a pattern as it grew up? Grew up?! My God, if this was a baby, how big was the mother? And where was she?
In the few seconds that we had to view this strangeness, my mind raced, like a computer at top speed, sorting data, eliminating possibilities, hitting brick walls, bouncing off them, trying again to find an answer that made sense. What was it? Where was I? Who was I? What was going to happen next?
And then we were standing there, Roberto with a shovel, me still rooted in place whimpering, “Why was it pink?”
We looked for it, but it had vanished. Our neighbor Greg came over, fuel pump in hand. He had been working on his jeep and had heard my screams of “pink.” He was intrigued, and asked if we had been smoking something. We assured him not and we walked the perimeter of the yard, me keeping my eyes on the trees above us.
When we were alone, Roberto and I shook and babbled. We both confessed to stark-raving terror, and we were so glad that we had both seen it. If either one of us had told the other, well…there would have been real concerns about sanity. He said he was glad it was gone before he got back with the shovel because he didn’t really want to chop its head off. And he admitted to the same reality computing problem I had had. In that instant, his artist’s mind leapt to the conclusion that the fabric of reality had ripped open in front of his eyes, and that he was seeing some strange pinkness, some new pink reality through the tear, and that maybe any moment Darth Vader or a dinosaur would appear in that pinkness. I told him about thinking it was a new born baby or a piece of bubble gum, and I saw a flash of concern in his face.
“No, I’m ok, I really am,” I reassured him. “But I think I need to get away. I’m going to do some errands.”
“Ok,” he said gently, “Be careful driving, and try not to think about it. It’s gone. It’s over.”
“I know, but it was so pink…” my lower lip began to curl, four year old style. “What are you going to do while I’m gone?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” he said, “I think I’ll go to Pinko’s — I mean Kinko’s!” And we both exploded with laughter, the kind that releases a flood of anxiety.
That was years ago and there was never another siting of the pink snake. But I still find myself looking in the trees, just in case, and wondering why it came to us, in its amazing pinkness. I have learned that it has a name — coach whip — and that they are rumored to whip their prey to death. I now know that they can grow to over eight feet long, and that they find refuge in trees, and coil up and strike the enemy’s face repeatedly when threatened. And I understand that this is one of Mother Nature’s many creatures, and that she may not have intended to give me the jolt that she did.
For awhile I was angry at her. Why did she single me out, and deliver me a shock on that lovely spring day that made me in an instant question all my knowledge about the world she had led me to believe in? Couldn’t she have given me a little warning, a rumbling of the ground, a darkening of the sky, a chilling of that innocent spring air?
But, hey, maybe she didn’t mean to startle me at all. Maybe she thought it would be a gift, a delight, to see a giant pink snake slithering from tree to tree. Maybe she is still muttering to herself, “That Lucy, what a shock she gave me — shrieking in my calm springtime freshness, scaring my precious snake nearly out of his pink skin. See if I ever offer her a treat like that again!”
Well, I have not quite progressed to that point of view, but I am, sometimes, able to think quietly about the beauty of the snake, and ponder his little pink snake soul. And, if I were to see him again, I might apologize for disturbing his warm lazy day. The truth is that the pink snake and I have something in common. We are both creations of Mother Nature, and on that Saturday afternoon outside Santa Fe, we were both terrified out of our wits, or out of our skin, as the case may be. I’m glad Roberto didn’t chop its head off. After all, being pink is not a crime.