I came across a juvenile rat snake on my run this morning. He was coiled on the side of the road, near the grass. What I love best about running outside is all the other lives going on around me. I keep track of the animals I've seen and where I see them. It's like knowing who your neighbors are and understanding what your neighborhood is about.
Snakes are beautiful, quiet, and invisible until I almost step on them. Some people would say they're sneaky and dangerous, and while some snakes are, others are simply another life trying to make a go of it in their little niche.
When I come across a snake in my path, I like to stop and look at it, to admire it's beauty. I also wait for it to get off the path so I can be sure that it doesn't get stepped on or run over by a bike, or in some instances, a car. Not on my watch, at least.
This morning I stopped near the rat snake. He looked gorgeous and fine, until I saw the ants crawling around his mouth. I touched his body with my shoe and he still felt soft, but he didn't coil up or move away from me. So I touched his side with my finger, and he was really soft. I don't know what happened to him. He must have been run over even though there wasn't much evidence of that. Except for the ants, his body looked perfect.
I continued on my run and when I passed the snake again, I picked him up by the tail and moved him into the grass. He wasn’t stiff at all, like I had imagined he would be. I wished I could show him more respect, but at that time that was the best I could do. As a child, my sisters and I often buried the dead animals we found in our yard. But when I was young, I had seen little of death. Now I see it everywhere and if I buried all the dead animals I come across, I'd be burying something every day.
It always hurts when I see an animal that has needlessly died by human hands. I feel responsible, even though I haven't personally killed them. I'm responsible in that I use the roads that move the cars to and from places and it is on the road that I see the most death. Nearly every day there's an animal crushed beyond recognition on the side of the road. I don't understand why it is always on the side of the road.
But my mind plays it out. Driver spots possum crossing the road, driver swerves to the right to miss the possum, at the same time the possum darts quickly to the right to escape the car. That is where they meet, on the side of the road. It never ends well for the possum, but the human can drive away. I hope the driver cries, at the very least.
When I see the dead, I wonder who they have left behind. Have they left reliant young? Nature is cruel, I know, and as an old friend once told me (a Navajo), "Things die, Nik." Still, I can't help but wonder—as Barry Lopez expresses in "Apologia," found in the book, About This Life—"Who are these animals, their lights gone out? What journeys have fallen apart here?"