Looking at snakes.

Having two boys of my own, and eleven grandsons, I have done my share of reading to them books about snakes, a topic on which I probably would never have read one word if left to myself. I’m so accommodating. Last week I even read many pages of a giant book about dinosaurs.

That book mysteriously appeared in my house a year or more ago and I didn’t pay much attention to it until Scout asked me to read it last week. It may have been the most boring read-aloud I have ever agreed to, and finally I said I’d had enough. After he went to bed I threw it in the trash.

Snakes are more interesting, I admitfree-green-snake-wallpaper-hd-wallpaper, because they live on the earth with us and can be observed as they really are. But still….

I sat with the grandchildren twice last week to read the snake book that is in our home library, and I re-learned several things about the reptiles. Doubtless I will re-forget most of the facts we read, too, as I always have done, even when my brain was younger and more flexible. I have read stuff like this for so many years: “Would you believe that a python can swallow a whole goat?…The snake doesn’t chew or swallow the way we do. It simply moves its body forward with its jaws wide open and ‘walks’ the animal down its throat.”

When I imagine this scene, or look at pictures of it, I think about how the snake itself is consumed by the task of consuming. Even the egg-eater, who takes only 15 minutes to finish the job and spit out the shell, can’t go anywhere or sleep or drink water, for the duration. The beautiful green flying snake can’t sense a hawk threat and take off like a spring to escape.

After Scout had gone home I came across a poem about the way a snake eats, and I started reading it with the idea of someday sharing it with him. But when I got to the last stanzas I realized that it was for me, much more than for a snake-fascinated boy. Through this poem’s impact, what I learned of snakes I won’t be forgetting. It might take a python a few hours to eat a goat. My portion is of a different calibration and I only know that I’ll be at it a while.


I watched a snake once, swallow a rabbit.
Fourth grade, the reptile zoo
the rabbit stiff, nose in, bits of litter stuck to its fur,

its head clenched in the wide
jaws of the snake, the snake
sucking it down its long throat.

All throat that snake—I couldn’t tell
where the throat ended, the body
began. I remember the glass

case, the way that snake
took its time (all the girls, groaning, shrieking
but weren’t we amazed, fascinated,

saying we couldn’t look, but looking, weren’t we
held there, weren’t we
imagining—what were we imagining?)

Mrs. Peterson urged us to move on girls,
but we couldn’t move. It was like
watching a fern unfurl, a minute

hand move across a clock. I didn’t know why
the snake didn’t choke, the rabbit never
moved, how the jaws kept opening

wider, sucking it down, just so
I am taking this in, slowly,
taking it into my body:

this grief. How slow
the body is to realize.
You are never coming back.

–Donna Masini, from Turning to Fiction


7 thoughts on “Looking at snakes.

  1. I must have needed to cry…sob and wail…dear friend.

    And then in the broken open moment I thought of holy words of promise, not their addresses, I had to look those up, but the promises that you know. Isaiah 25:8 “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” 1Cor 15:54 “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.'”

    This week, the day before the 54th anniversary of my mother’s death, I came across a tiny photo of her I keep in her sewing machine drawer. It stuns me how I can grieve her loss yet…how resident the absence… until that Day…


  2. That had such a profound ending! Thank you for sharing. I hope that the ending wasn’t too sad for you!

    Re your comment. It WAS the last day of my holiday bar one but it was the first day of doing the 30 days wild challenge which began on the 1st June, the day I was on that walk in France! If you wanted to see more of my holiday photos, you can read the posts that came before it, just have a look at the side bar or click the label Germany or France!!!


  3. I am fond of snakes in my way, although I don’t like to be surprised by them. Will wanted a snake for a long time, but it made me sad to think of one locked up in a cage.

    Wonderful poem!



  4. I could never seem to get very close to “people who keep reptiles”. It is uncomfortable for me to watch someone drop a live mouse into a tank with a trapped snake. I’m always fascinated by the story of the tempter in the garden. Did God create snakes after the fall or did they exist before?


  5. I am so very grateful for your friend Jeannette who ably expressed empathy for where our lives take us, also, recalling for us the truth that death has lost its sting. I am sorry that living well brings losses that are hard to bear.

    It made me laugh to learn that you threw away a book. This is a sweet post GJ.


  6. OH, GJ – I loathe, despise, am repulsed by snakes of all kinds. Just this morning I walked into the chicken coop and found a 4-foot king snake there! Ugh. It wasn’t a black snake, so I asked Adam to kill it, which he did. Wasn’t really sure of its type, honestly. I’ll never walk in that coop with the same feeling of happiness. That poem even made me feel a bit queasy.


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