I was confiding in my 14 year-old grandson recently about my fear of snakes. He lives far away and we were on zoom. I told him that during the summer and early fall snakes are slithering through the tall grass, lounging on warm rocks, and generally waiting to terrify me. This means that my usual refreshing, invigorating walks become terrifying treks. With my eyes riveted on the ground in front of me, I told him, I miss the gorgeous views, mountains in the distance, a sky full of huge cloud pillows, the bright yellow chamisa bushes ahead, the ravens wheeling above me. There were alternative routes, I explained, on dusty dirt roads, but this was my favorite one and I hated to give it up, but those snakes…
He agreed this was a sad state of affairs, which was pretty generous for a young teen in the throes of adolescence. And he had some advice: “Just go on the walk, the one you like, through the grass, with the views and the ravens and everything, but don’t look down. Keep your eyes on the horizon and just keep walking. If you’re not looking for them all the time, you won’t think about them, and you can enjoy yourself.”
I pointed out that I imagined I would worry about stepping on one, and that if I did I would surely have a heart attack and die and the snake would bite me for good measure and…. but he had returned to his digital device.
It’s an interesting and tempting recipe for living, and maybe one I should cook up now and then. Those things that haunt me, scare me, anger or sadden me, those things I have zero control over – why not just look elsewhere? Why not find a more pleasing, nourishing view? If I take my eyes off the path, littered with domestic chaos and global crisis, if I breathe deep and look out at the horizon, maybe all that distress won’t be there.
Of course I know better, and so does my grandson. We both know the snake may actually be basking across the sunny path, and that I may even step on it and stumble. We both know that the sadness and suffering are still there in the world, and that I may open the morning paper and be confronted with another horror, maybe this time it’s people clinging to a jetliner in Afghanistan. But he knows a balance is what his grandma needs. He knows she will still worry about the snake, but if she can choose, even for a few steps, to take in a different view, she will be happier and healthier.
This month saw several updates I want to share with you. You will see links to the previous posts, which hopefully you can click on. (I am cautiously proud of my ability to imbed links…holding my breath.)
Mentoring: Picture a convention of mediators. It is a very accommodating crowd, to the point of absurdity at times. A group of us stand in the lobby of the hotel, ready to go to dinner. Where shall we go? Oh, how many vegetarians do we have? Is pork a problem? What about lactose intolerant? We could do seafood, but perhaps someone is from Seattle and would like something else? Tacos are good, and can be gluten free? At some point I want to scream, “I’m going for pizza, dammit! Who’s with me?” But it is all worth it. These are my people, my fellow seekers of peace, my tribe, and I treasure each and every one. And among them this year were two young women whom I am mentoring: Jasmin Munoz and Raven Pinto. I was the proudest of mentors as I watched them each present their recent work. (more…)
“Where can I find steel wool?” The Ace Hardware greeter directed me to Aisle 5, where I found it on the bottom shelf. I was looking for the coarsest kind to plug up the many holes in our house that led to the crawl space. I had done a quick survey and found at least three gaps where pipes went from the baseboard heating or from appliances down through the floor to the crawl space, a place where one hoped never to have to go.
And what is so repellent about our crawl space? It is home to mice, of course, which is nothing new and part of country life. But wait, as they say on late night TV, there’s more! Let me back track a couple of weeks.
We took a short trip to Grand Canyon and while we were gone our cat-sitter Miranda called us to report that our cats were delighted with their new companion, a three-foot snake which she found on the rug in our bedroom. It was a good thing that I was in our hotel room and not near the canyon or I surely would have leapt in when I saw the photo of Miranda, clearly in our bedroom, beaming and holding the snake by the head while it wrapped around her arm. She likes snakes and took it to her house to live…outside I presume.
If you saw my post about the giant pink snake in the tree you will understand how deep my fear of snakes runs. http://lucymoore.com/strangest-thing-ive-ever-seen/. By the time we got home I was a wreck. I forced myself inside and walked from room to room, eyes glued to the floor, flinching at a computer cord, a snake-like cat toy, even shoe laces. Anything long and thin was a source for panic. Clearly we had to find every possible snake access and plug it up.
So there I was, sitting on the floor inspecting the bins of steel wool when a young woman in a red Ace Hardware polo shirt asked if I needed help. I looked up and saw a smiling 20-something, with short black hair and a piercing or two. On the verge of tears, I explained that just that morning I had found the second snake to invade our house. This one, much smaller than the first, (could there be a nest of baby snakes???!!!) had apparently been killed by our cats. I was so afraid of snakes, I explained, and I figured that the best way to keep them out was to plug all access, hence the steel wool.
She listened thoughtfully before speaking.
“Of course, you need to plug those holes — you can’t have snakes in your house. I would recommend this expanding spray foam. It will fill the holes and dry hard. Snakes can push steel wool out of the way if they want to. They are very strong, but this foam will stop them.”
She handed me a canister and I thanked her, but she went on, stooping down to my level.
“You know, I was very lucky. My uncle loved snakes. He had a boa constrictor.” I probably made a face but she went on. “I spent a lot of time at his house, and one day when my mom came to get me, that boa was wrapped around my body – I was about five and it wasn’t squeezing me at all, just gently hugging me. Every time I went over there, it came and wrapped around me. It loved me, and I loved it. In the summer I would walk outside with the snake around me. It always let me have my arms free, so sometimes I would hold a book and read stories to the snake as we walked. Those were great times. I was really lucky.”
I was waiting for the “so there’s nothing to be afraid of, snakes are kind, you should get over it, etc.” Instead she said, “But you have a phobia and that’s a serious thing. We need to get those holes plugged up.” We examined the different foam canisters and chose one especially for pests. I thanked her, got to my feet and left for home.
I thought about her story and found that, rather than revolting me or freaking me out, it gave me real pleasure. The picture of her walking around the garden reading to her boa buddy made me smile. There are lots of ways of relating to snakes and I do not have to be locked in my version. I’m not saying that at this point I am able to free myself of the phobia, but it is very helpful to have a different version to draw on. My Ace Hardware therapist understood that and generously offered her story — an alternative narrative about snakes — rather than trying to talk me out of my phobia. She was respectful, sensitive and knew what I needed. What more can one ask from a therapist?
Note: I realize I am on a roll with stories of strangers helping me deal with fears. See last month’s http://lucymoore.com/i-was-on-my-way/Is it just me, or have you been lucky in this way, too?