Last summer, I was only home for short stints between work travel. The days I was home, I often guided walks for different local organizations. The people who show up are always such an amazing source of joy. Not joy because it is always happy, but joy as in like we feel really supported by each other and the forest in our experiences during the time we share.Here in Indiana, I love meadows and wetlands in the summer because there is often a breeze and less irritation from the insect beings. It was in late July and time that a new animal being showed up to teach me something.
The first intimate encounter with the serpent had been a year before. It was in a wetland-a private property-and I was guiding a forest therapy walk. We walked slowly along the path and out of nowhere a 3-foot long snake slithered across my feet. In summer, my Teva sandals are my shoes. The scales of the snake were a shocking sensation on my toes as the snake moved over my feet..both of them. It just went on its merry way. Not concerned by the type of snake it was, I simply saw the experience as an anomaly and gift.
Another walk, this last summer-alone this time-the very same thing happened. From the left, a large snake appeared and I hardly noticed before it was on my feet, moving across, not even seeming to be in a hurry. I simply watched in awe. That was twice.
The third time it happened was on another guided walk, in a meadow area. Everyone had been sent out for 20 minutes to sit or wander alone. I wanted to do the same. But before, I needed to set up our tea ceremony, which was to come next. When I finished, I walked slowly through the meadow. As I walked, I suddenly heard a sound. It was a very alarming sound, like something was calling out for help. I thought at first it might be a cicada being eaten, but this was a very different alarm. It was, however, a small animal sound. As I wandered toward the sound, I found myself a little hesitant. I knew I needed to see what was happening.
I walked into the meadow, clearing the grasses and flowers in front of me with a long stick. As I got closer, the volume increased. It was most definitely a cry for help. And there they were; a snake eating a bright green frog. The frog was in distress, of course, and the snake was very focused on his lunch. The frog was trapped, back legs already inside the unhinged jaws of the snake’s mouth. And there I was, alarmed and extremely disjointed by the sound the frog was making. The two voices in my head began. “You should just observe. This is just nature at work. Leave it alone.” The other voice was not a voice really. It felt like, “You have to save the little frog. He called out. You heard him. It is right that you follow your heart and save him.” Being the empath that I am, I really had no choice. I used the stick to move the grasses to uncover the area as moved closer. My actions agitated the snake, but I stayed as far away as possible. He reared up and “stood” up about a foot high with the frog still deeply in his mouth. He would not let go easily. I agitated him a little more, just moving the stick at the ground close to him. Retreating slightly, he stayed as reared up as possible, holding tightly to the frog. Eventually, the snake felt threatened enough to let go and leave the scene. I felt a real struggle there, in myself. I wondered why it was I needed to stop that natural process, but I did. The snake was over 4 feet long, but a simple garter snake. I felt relieved at the cessation of the sound, but also regretful about having upset the built-in miracle of the food web in the meadow. The feeling of relief was primary, though.
The allotted time was complete for that part of the guided walk and I called everyone back to the circle. We sat at our tea, shared our stories, snacked and just basked in the sunshine and the smell of the warm grasses in the meadow.
As we left the forest I met the serpent again. Walking on the path back to the parking lot, a snake slithered over my bare feet. I was walking just ahead of the participants and just allowed myself to stop and breathe in the moment. I felt a smile come across my face and a feeling of sheer surprise and mild shock fill my body. I could not help but talk about this experience with my new friends. Luckily, they all were interested enough not to think I was losing my mind and were quite curious about it.
I drove home pondering the morning’s events. The visitations from the snakes were all too much to ignore, once again. I needed to look some things up. As I sat at my table, after showing the kids the video I took of the frog and snake, the significance of these encounters became apparent. I had had a summer filled with encounters with the color red, Mother Mary and other revelations of the divine feminine, the salmon spawning, artwork that made my body just light up with excitement, feeling validation of my journey just through my coming face to face with it all. Here was something to pay attention to yet again.
The snake means many things and is found within so many ancient cultures’ belief systems. Encountering a snake can represent healing, transformation and a surge of life force and primal energy. The snake-think Garden of Eden-can symbolize spiritual guidance. One site states that snake might appear when we are stepping into the unknown and ready to experience significant personal growth. It also has been defined as the carrier of divine feminine energy and the possibility of the release of old ideas that no longer serve.
The encounters with snake were powerful outer witnesses for what was happening in my life. The gratitude I feel for these experiences really cannot be put into words. The support of the more-than-human world is so generous and validating. The mirror of nature is honest, perhaps more honest than our reflections from the human world.
Thank you, dear humans, though, for traveling this path with me.
Please share your experiences in the comments about your encounters with the natural world, questions you might have about it, or ideas you’d like to see us explore!