Copperhead Road

It’s not every running season that starts with a snake encounter. I say starts because I start again in September after taking a break for the month of August. Since September 1st fell on a Saturday I made the first run of the season a trail run. Just a short one but long enough to come toe to nose with a snake of some significance.

We were traveling toward each other in the same lane. Luckily it happened to be on a section of paved trail or I might not have seen her. Directly in my path, I probably would have stepped on her. But I saw her in time and thundered to a stop. She stopped as well and lifted up her head. We stared at each other in one of those time-stands-still movie scene moments. Me and this snake in a bubble, all five senses merging into one. Greetings, Madame. All the tingles.

It’s hard to stay frozen for long when the freeze happens on a run. The body doesn’t like it. The energy can’t dissipate that fast. It’s uncomfortable. I needed to move but I didn’t want to break the spell. I also didn’t want to appear threatening or aggressive in any way. I assumed she could already tell I wasn’t scared. She didn’t seem scared either but I lacked sufficient snake-speak to know what not to say with my body language. I didn’t want to risk a non-verbal faux pas. So I moved like a snake.

I slid to the edge of the trail and turned my body sideways as if to yield the right of way to her. She remained as she was, head still raised, watching me. The Chef and El Doggo were advancing behind me. I knew they’d be right here right quick. The moments before they arrived tasted like ginger ale. I heard them before I saw them. One word came through, protect. Her. The dog. The interlude. The experience. I shifted back onto the trail, sinewy and svelte. To my retinue coming up in the rear I threw up my right hand in the universal signal for Halt.

I called out that there was a snake on the trail and I would prefer the dog not eat her. You laugh but my dog eats snakes. Lots of them. We have a backyard rife with snakes. Brown ones, Green ones, King ones. He hunts them every morning and afternoon. He catches them. He chews on them. He rolls around on their carcasses. He lets them rot in the sun and humidity and then makes sweet love to their stinking corpses. I’ve watched this many times. On any given summer day I can look out my kitchen window and see him galloping across the yard with a skinny snake dangling from his jaws. From a distance it looks like a Fu Manchu mustache. Sometimes he doesn’t get them all the way dead before he starts his victory laps and you can see the snake still striking as my killer canine carries it off. None of them have been venomous. So far.

But this encounter on the trail? Venomous. Copperhead. Adult. I ran sans phone that day but she was similar to this one:

Her business seemed to be with me, not my dog, so although I maintained a respectful distance I kept myself between the two of them. The Chef shepherded El Doggo around and past. I widened the space. The three of us stood admiring her. Well, two of us did. The furry one was busy with other sights and smells at the far end of the leash. I didn’t want to leave her on the trail with so many walkers and runners afoot but I knew full well I was not the boss of her. So we waited. Eventually she put her head down and moved off the trail toward the woods on her own. Elegant as you please.

We finished the run all charged up and chattery. It got hot. I watered the dog. We toweled off and went home. I drove, which left The Chef free to bestow upon me all of his copperhead knowledge and the copperhead experience of his lifetime, which was substantial. I listened and drove the back way on the old highway no one uses much on the weekend. Sweaty sunblock slithered into my crevices. I fell silent and felt witchy.

The running flower I chose for the month of September is the Bravery daisy. Since I dream about animals and reptiles and such my mind automatically bends toward regarding them as messengers and symbols and such. Always curious about what they’ve come to tell me. Come to show me, teach me, warn me, beckon me. I jive with all the hippy dippy vibe of communion with Earth’s others, always with me on the receiving end of the transaction. Today, for the first time ever, I wondered the opposite. What did that snake come to get from me?

(Chuckle) Now isn’t that an audacious thought? Audacious happens to be a synonym of bravery. Along with pluck, spunk, mettle, nerve, spirit, and prowess.

Oh, the nerve of me. To imagine snakes and elk and warthogs and orcas and tigers and prehistoric birds are seeking me out to ask me things instead of tell me things! Have I had it backwards all along? Am I the messenger? Was I always the messenger? Am I the damn oracle and I didn’t know it? I hope you are all smirking at my audacity as bravely as I am.

And if so, what did I tell that snake? What was my message to Madame Copperhead? Shit, what did I say? All I can remember saying was Protect. I guess that’s a brave thing.  But why would a snake need me? The Chef said copperheads breed in late summer. Was she pregnant? Copperheads don’t lay eggs. They birth their pennies live from their bodies. Was she in labor? Was she postpartum? Maybe she had babies nearby. Was I protecting her protecting them? Baby copperheads are born with fangs and venom already ready. Was she protecting me protecting them? Had she just come from mating? Was she tired and sore from fighting with males and the warm pavement felt good on her belly? Oh, I wish I could speak snake.

Later on Instagram I wrote that I made it back from Copperhead Road and it was nothing like they said. I was trying to be clever. It’s an old redneck song about whiskey and weed. Bootleggin’ and drug dealin’. Vietnam with a short a. I never liked it much except for the imagery of an actual copperhead road. You know, a road just for snakes. It would take a lot of mettle to travel that road. I mean, on foot anyway.

Unless there’s not much snake traffic on the road and you’ve got a clear head and a renaissance heart. The weekends aren’t bad. It can be done.

— Mercy

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