The blacksnake and I friended the moment we first laid eyes on one another.
The early, dew-pearled spring morning remains as fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday. I had gone to my towering compost heap, bucket in hand, to retrieve some black gold. As I knelt at the base of its old, sweet-smelling richness, I suddenly sensed eyes. Someone or something was scrutinizing me. I was being watched. I could feel it deep in my bones. I looked all around me and saw no one. Then I lifted my eyes, and there on top of the compost heap was an incredibly beautiful, brilliantly glossy blacksnake, leaning over, looking down at me with its small eyes, its tongue darting, in red contrast to its white under chin, mellowing into soft yellow. I felt neither chill nor threat. I continued my task, all the while the two of us kept returning glances as if to make certain that we did not snap our nanosecond bond, perhaps never to connect again.
Surprisingly, the bond stretched and sunned itself over the summer. Even though I was always hoping to see my blacksnake–so much so that I often went looking for him–our encounters were sudden, unexpected ones.
Not long after our initial meeting, I was hard at work, planting a new specimen tree in the upper yard. The curly, contorted willow was already a large tree with a root ball that seemed far more immense when delivered than when purchased. By the time I dug the hole and positioned the tree, I was exhausted, but I still faced watering, backfilling, watering again, and mulching. Edging near tiredom, I walked a few steps to the nearby waterhose. Reaching down, I lifted with an intent to pull. In an instant, I realized that what I had in hand had no drag. I looked. There I stood holding in midair my blacksnake friend whom I had mistaken for my black water hose. It was my second one-on-one experience. Once again our eyes locked. But this meeting was more special than the first. Now we knew one another’s touch–warmth against cold, cold against warmth. I put the blacksnake down as casually as I had picked him up, and we each continued what we were doing. I could not see him, but I sensed that he watched from somewhere nearby as I finished planting the willow.
On another occasion, I had spent the better part of my day laying stone pavers for a short walkway through the garden bed outside my kitchen and building a low stone wall along the walkway’s meandering edge. The sunny day bordered on scorch. I sat on the walkway, leaned back into the flower garden, admiring my handiwork. As I gloated, a cold black stream soft-bellied itself across my sweaty outstretched arm. I looked back and my eyes met the eyes of my friend, the blacksnake. I remained motionless, holding my breath, hoping that the snake would stop, linger, and perhaps even explore. Instead he slithered on his way, calmly and unhurriedly.
My next visitation was perhaps my most unexpected and the most short lived. One summer evening, I had gone for a walk in the yard. When I went out, I didn’t consider turning on the outdoor lights. But darkness had fallen by the time I started back. I could see my way easily enough because the indoor lights were on, including those in the foyer. Even if the lights had not been on, I could have footed along without really looking. And that’s exactly what I did, that is until my hand clutched for the storm door and instead of an iron handle I felt a cold, smooth, muscular surface, pulsing to my touch. Only then did I look. The foyer light dimly illuminated my blacksnake friend, partially coiled around the door handle, upper body stretching toward the door top and lower body draping downward. I opened the door and went inside. My friend remained outside, leaving me to wonder whether he had hoped, for once, to be visitor in my world as I had been so often in his.
That rendezvous was the most fleeting. My fifth was the most lasting. As autumn started, my late partner Allen and I grew weary of removing fallen leaves from our Koi pond and cascading waterfalls. To make our task easier, we covered both with invisible black netting.
Our solution was perfect. The leaves floated on top of the netting instead of on top of the water. But the day came when our hearts sank as we discovered a scarlet red, black-faced cardinal struggling to escape the black netting’s grab. We lifted the netting to winged flight.
“So much for that brilliant solution,” we sighed simultaneously.
I rolled the netting into a ball, left it on the small patio beside the pond, and went back indoors to help Allen with dinner.
After dinner, I went back out to throw the netting away. Reaching down, I saw my blacksnake inextricably interwined in the ball.
Allen came out to see what I was doing.
“Look at what we’ve done. This is all our fault,” I lamented. “We have to get the snake out of the netting.”
“And just how do you plan to do that without getting bitten?”
“Go get some scissors, and I’ll show you what I have in mind.”
Allen came back out with a pair of surgical scissors that he was so skilled in using.
“I’ll get a hold of the snake just behind his head so that he can’t bite me, and you cut away and remove the netting.”
Ever so cautiously, I knelt and took gentle hold of the blacksnake behind his head. Allen starting cutting away at the netting, gradually freeing the snake’s tail.
As he snipped away more and more netting, the blacksnake began coiling his emerging body ever so slowly and calmly around my arm.
As Allen snipped, I gently rubbed my other hand against the snake’s skin, making certain that no black netting had been left behind.
Finally, the moment came when Allen finished. I remained kneeling on the patio with my blacksnake friend coiled entirely around my arm.
What was I to do now? I had not planned for this moment of release, this moment of letting go.
I stood up slowly, all the while watching my blacksnake friend watching me. It was as if he knew that Allen and I had rescued him. It was as if I knew that my friend would do me no harm.
I walked up to the bank beside the waterfalls, gently lowered my snake-coiled arm to the ground, and let go my grasp around the snake’s head.
Two, together, frozen in spirit and frozen in time, just for one second and one second only. In the next, our eternity melted. My blacksnake friend started uncoiling himself from around my arm, pausing to look back. Our eyes locked one last time before he slithered his way back into our world.