History is like science in the sense that it is very difficult to get to the ultimate, absolute, bottom-of, truth about something. Even personal history is layered in emotion and the fallibility of memory. I began to really understand this when I was researching leprosy in medieval times for Martin of Gfenn.
Most people still have the image of hordes of lepers wandering around Europe ringing their bell or rattling their rattle rasping out “Unclean!” as they begged for food. Probably there were a few lepers out there doing this, but in reality there were never many lepers in Europe. Most of them were crusaders returning from the Holy Land where leprosy was endemic. So where did people get this idea? Sir Walter Scott AND the fact that there are a LOT of medieval buildings that were built as leper hospitals scattered across the countryside. I went into this in depth in my gripping four part series on the Medieval Leper which, to my amazement has barely been read by anybody. Go figure! 🙂
The other thing about history is the further back one looks, the less one sees. At the museum in Del Norte, to which I’m somewhat attached, the director — Louise — is always happy to have “provenance,” that is real honest to god factual information about a thing. But even ancient history is getting some of that thanks to science, Carbon 14 dating and even more exciting, DNA. Almost every day I learn something new about something old that paleo anthropologists have discovered from a couple of molars found buried in a cave in an obscure part of the world. And then, there’s this amazing thing, the reconstruction of heads based on DNA and skeletal fragments.
The first time I saw this amazing process realized was when I went to the San Diego Museum of Man to see Ötzi, the Iceman. I fell in love with Ötzi the moment he was discovered and was really happy to discover that my DNA Haplogroup is the same as his. It doesn’t matter AT ALL other than adding to the mythology that short mountain dwelling people with arthritis are an ancient band. Ötzi was comparably easy to reconstruct into a 3-D image of himself because he was frozen in a glacier and had most of his parts and his last meal intact, even after 5300 years. His entire being told a library of stories — with provenance.
My first “book” is a semi-autobiographical story that was, long long long ago, titled “Vast Chain of Dancers.” I dimly remember Aristotle describing humanity that way, as a “vast chain of dancers,” but my boyfriend at the time said he had a hard time imagining a “vast” chain, a chain being this long narrow thing and anything vast being more along the lines of the ocean, amorphous and all over the damned place.
The book fell into the darkness for many years, then I resurrected it and worked on it some more. It fell into oblivion again, for a long time, then not all that long after I moved here, without a project, and having found it in the move, I worked on it again. About two years ago I finally finished the book — no longer titled “A Vast Chain of Dancers,” but now Fledging. I printed two copies. One for me and one for the amazing woman who is kind of an adopted mom, mentor, hero.
Thinking of her returns me to the notion of a vast chain. My boyfriend was wrong, but he didn’t live long enough to understand what Aristotle meant. I might not know what Aristotle meant, either, but I get the metaphor at 68, two weeks shy of 69, as I didn’t at 27.
The woman I just mentioned, we’ll call her Bianca, is the mother of a man, Chris, who became my friend and with whom I worked in an online support group for families of addicts. We never met in real life. I met Chris through George, the husband of a Sarah, a wonderful woman with whom I had taught a decade or more earlier. George was an amazing man who “got” me, and was ally and guide for many years as I struggled to overcome life’s fardles and write well. Chris was killed in a very tragic accident. Not long before he died he hooked Bianca up with an iPad and a Facebook account. He linked her up with people he thought she should know, one of whom was me. Another was a woman named Flame. I knew flame from many years earlier as we both struggled toward and through hip resurfacing at the same time and discovered we had much in common other than fucked up joints. That was a bizarre coincidence, to me, but all of these people (except Bianca) were linked by a common faith. They were all practicing Hindus who had been part of the same ashram in the Bay Area. Flame, her husband, and Sarah had all lived for many years in India.
Monte Vista. I’m here because of a house that I saw online. I couldn’t buy it, but it’s only a block away. Since I walked my dogs almost every day, going down the alley to the golf course or high school if I didn’t head out somewhere “more” interesting (that’s a point of view thing) I passed a house. Two years ago a family moved in and the little boy, then 5 years old, said “Hi!” to me. And so, yesterday,
Yesterday — almost exactly two years after I met this little boy — Bear and I stopped by his house to take him and his sister for a walk. Since they hardly ever get to go anywhere, it was a big big big deal for them. We walked up to the high school, then I asked them if they wanted to go through a secret gate and, of course, they were all about it, so we “sneaked” in a back gate to the golf course. There were animal tracks in the snow so I taught the kids what creature made what tracks. Bear rolled in the snow where the scent was strong enough for her to smell (not me, thankfully). The kids ran and explored and felt they’d had an adventure. They climbed the great pile of snow that came from all of our town’s streets and then summited one of the golf course berms. I told them to plant their flag so I could take the summit photograph (featured photo).
Everything we did we did because I was once a little girl with a little brother, not because I know anything about kids. I don’t. I just remember what Kirk and I thought was great. So, though these kids don’t see the OTHER two kids running and climbing with them, they — we — are there.
And more…last night I did a video chat with the younger son of the Good-X with whom I’m close, his wife, S, and their kids. Their little girl has my mother’s name. She’s 7 and recently became very interested in American Indians. Her mom alerted me to this and told the little girl, “Oma Martha knows about Indians.” I haven’t met the kids in real life. It’s expensive for them and for me to make the trips involved. In a conference with S I decided to send H (the little girl) some of the Indian things I have including a bracelet made for me by one of my mom’s friends on the Crow Reservation where my mom taught in the 1940’s. I got it out of its safe place, repaired the snap that closes it and packed it up with a little pin from the Zuni Pueblo and a small black pot made by Maria Martinez. Last night I watched as H struggled to fasten the bracelet on her wrist (it was never easy). S stepped in to help her, and I thought, “Well, Mom, it found a home.” H is thrilled to have REAL Indian things and I am happy she has them. But what a journey for these small bits of life.
When I look around me at life, I see many of these “chains” forming a wide and timeless net. Maybe this is what Aristotle meant. We really do not know whose lives we will enter and touch.
Generally, The Washington Post series on coping with the pandemic has been pretty irrelevant to me. Today’s newsletter confirmed why. It ended with this:
“Maybe I sound a little like a retiree. Well, yeah! Retirees have a lot to teach younger people about future orientation. It’s not so much that older people plan fewer activities, writes Marc Wittmann in his book “Felt Time”; it’s that they plan them for a more immediate future — the same way people survive a crisis like this.” (Hey sweet cheeks, we were not born retirees, but whatev’)
I guess the retiree “crisis” is the impending ultimate nap. Why do retirees “plan (activities) for a more immediate future…”? In my case it’s because I finally can BUT I always have. I’ve never been a person to plan for the long term. I guess I’ve never believed in the long term. I know people do plan like that, a lot of people, maybe even most.
The newsletter today advises people to set “small, achievable goals” for themselves. But isn’t that always a good idea? It also advises people to notice smaller things — like the plants growing on their daily walks. Isn’t that always a good idea? It also advises planning a “mini-vacation” every week — such as riding your bike in a different part of town so they have something to look forward to.
The thread in all of these is fighting the idea that there is no future, nothing to look forward to, black emptiness.
I get that, but I don’t believe that or, having grown up near Air Force bases during the Cold War inoculated me with that world view, I take it for granted, sort of “Yeah? So what else is new?”
I thought about the Cold War as I read this passage in the WP newsletter:
“But the pandemic is this ongoing monster,” said Alice Holman of the University of California at Irvine. In casual speech, “quarantine” no longer has much to do with local orders, or even literally staying inside. It’s a state of mind, an eternal present. “Quarantine” is a vacuum for plans deferred until “this is all over” — not that anyone can define this, all or over.
“We have this chronic underlying stressor that’s holding us hostage,” Holman said.
Plenty of people back then believed that was only a matter of time before WW III. A lot of those people had already lived through two world wars and didn’t see much prospect of that kind of human behavior stopping any time soon. Many people were authentically frightened and, as everyone knows, we had bomb drills at school and watched films that simulated what would have happened if the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had been dropped on some place in England (ie. white people). WW II hovered over the lives of Baby Boomers and the Cold War surrounded us with its impending apocalyptic doom. Scary books like On the Beach made that future very real and moreso when made into films.
The bomb itself was one thing. The worst part was the residual nuclear fallout, so people built shelters to protect themselves from the bomb itself in which they could stay long enough for the fallout to be gone. (Hello Chernobyl). My family lived 2 miles from the second most important target for Soviet bombs so we had a pretty cavalier perspective on the whole thing.
But it was there. A big difference between The Bomb and the pandemic is that the Cold War could be satirized (and was) and this disease cannot.
Meanwhile, those of you who have visited Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Granby and Grand Lake, be grateful you saw it in its splendor because it is now on fire. I guess we Coloradans haven’t swept or raked our forests sufficiently, either.
The ladies and I met on my deck for another COVID tea party yesterday and had a wonderful time. One thing in particular touched me and I think it’s meaningful in a more general way. As they left they thanked me.
I didn’t do anything but hose off the deck, wash the table and chairs, and get the patio umbrella in the right position. I made a joke, “Well, it’s pretty easy when you bring your cups of tea over, and I bring my water bottle outside, and, you know.” Laughter.
There was a lot of laughter, even when I told an off color joke about a young sheepherder. It had a context..
The conversations were random and wide ranging in their way. E, my neighbor who is originally from Australia, and Church of England, told a story about a recent Zoom meeting she attended pertaining her her leadership position in the Colorado Episcopalian church. She told how this bishop (?) explained he’d discovered during these times how much time he wasted BEFORE just being busy and important. He explained that C-19 had awakened him to an emptiness in his life he hadn’t been aware of.
This came up because I mentioned a note I got along with a sweatshirt I’d ordered from Poshmark. I said it was amazing the thoughtfulness and care that we express to each other now that we wouldn’t have last year.
When the party was over and I walked everyone to the front gate, K asked if I’d seen the garden sign I painted her in June. She said they’d hung it up. We all went to her house to see it. When the wood fades, the painting will be more visible, but meantime, I think it does its job pretty well, its job being to cheer people up. It’s hanging on their new shed.
My other activities yesterday were a little more arduous. I’m a small person. Five feet tall, so when it comes to framing large paintings it’s more like a wrestling match than it would be for a taller person. I had to order a roll of 4″ wide brown paper to properly frame the big painting. There’s more to framing an oil for which you have respect than there is to putting a photo in a frame. You have to fasten the painting into the frame and then you have to make sure that dust and other nasties won’t find their way to the painting. I use brown paper. I base my framing methods on those used by my grandfather’s favorite artist, Leroy Greene, a 20th century Montana impressionist.
Yesterday morning I spent three hours getting the backing on the painting of the tree. I don’t even have a table big enough so I was using my small drawing table. When I was done, I was finally able to hang up the painting and see it on a wall.
“To create a painting, should be like telling a story to a friend. The grammar, the choice of words, the thought, the knowledge of the subject, plus the joy of the telling, makes the difference between a good or a crude story. Just so in painting. The technique, the colors and the knowledge of the subject are most important, but without feeling and inspiration, and the sheer delight in the subject, the resulting painting will be short of being a work of art.” LeRoy Greene.
And, this is the sixth anniversary of actually LIVING in my house in Monte Vista, a life that still seems too good to be true, like a fantasy. ❤
Wow. I got NOTHING to write that’s remotely “fantabulous.” Or maybe everything is so fantabulous that it is just part of the daily parade of wonder (I suspect the second).
It seems like everybody is struggling with the present moment and striving to know the future. This morning, as I made my coffee, I thought that if Trump wins, my friend’s plan that we all go to Patagonia (I would love that) isn’t very practical for me because of my family and the fact that I can only get a 3 month visa. So, I’ve decided to ignore the whole thing and focus on the fantabulous stuff that’s not going anywhere.
24 Tao Te Ching
He who stands on tiptoe is not steady He who strides cannot maintain the pace. He who makes a show is not enlightened. He who is self-righteous is not respected. He who boasts achieves nothing. He who brags will not endure. According to followers of the Tao, “These are extra food and unnecessary baggage.” They do not bring happiness. Therefore followers of the Tao avoid them.
The other evening I took Bear to the Refuge. There were people with dogs (leashed dogs, bless their owners) so Bear and I turned to take a different road. Just as we turned, a Northern Harrier hawk flew low over us and landed in some willow trees along the trail we were about to take. We hadn’t walked far before I smelled dead animal and soon the hawk, disturbed by us, took flight in front of me. He joined his mate who was perched in a dead tree beside an abandoned homestead across the highway (well, it’s called a highway…). Bear and I soon passed the smell.
Storms were coming over the San Juans and from the trail we were on, we were close to the mountains, nothing between us. I thought to take a photo but I felt more like looking at it than photographing it. The hawks waited in the tree, knowing, I guess, that Bear and I would have to turn around. We got back to Bella and onto the highway just as the storm broke loose, washing my windows and my car.
I was laid off in 1974. That was one crazy year in my life ANYWAY but the night the layoffs took effect was the pinnacle of craziness.
I was fresh out of university with the highly desirable BA in English. After months of searching I found a job on the line at Head Ski. I didn’t realize it was seasonal work (nothing about that in the newspaper ad). I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking) cleaning the edges of finished skis. After a while, because I was talented, I got promoted to measuring flex and camber, pairing skis, burning serial numbers on the sides and bagging them in the cotton fish net (oh baby) in which they were shipped. It was a raise in pay, too, which was good, because I was supporting the First X who was still in school.
This went on a couple of months then the pink slips were passed out during break at 6 pm. “We’ll hire you back as openings become available.”
That last day started early. My mom came to get me in Boulder, all the way from Denver, to take me and my grandmother to Loveland for my great-uncle’s funeral. I was dressed up in a skirt my mom had made me and a nice sweater. After the funeral there was lunch and then hanging around. My mom dropped me off at the factory at 3, and I was still wearing my fancy clothes. I had jeans to change into, but no other top.
Factory work is physical work and there were some pretty extreme chemicals in there. My polyester sweater was soaking it all in, believe me. At “lunch” the plan was we would all — all of us being laid off and those in solidarity with us — were going in the parking lot to get high. Afterwards? Well, we stood for the next four hours filing the throats of the tennis rackets to baby-bottomed smoothness. At 11 we were set free. We were all going to a bar on Pearl Street.
I didn’t have a car, but that’s when I learned that Jeff — the CUTEST guy on the line — was interested in me. He took me to the bar in his red VW, treated me like a date, bought me tequila sunrise after tequila sunrise and ignored everyone else. At 2, the bar closed.
Pearl Street was then just a street in a small city. We got to the car and Jeff opened the door. As he was closing it, four guys who were engaged in a fight, came roiling by. Jeff — who was a little stringy dude — chased two of them away but the other two were still fighting by the car. I sat there in a semi-drunken, exhausted, chemical fazed stupor as one guy smashed the face of the other guy into the window behind which I sat.
“Assholes,” said Jeff, after chasing the guy away and getting in the car.
I thought I should have been horrified by what I’d seen, but I couldn’t summon up horror. I was too tired, too high and too drunk to really care that there was blood all over the window.
We got to the parking lot of my apartment and that’s when Jeff made his move. “I don’t know how things are between you and your husband, but, you know, anyway here’s my phone number.”
And he kissed me.
Fact is, life with the First X was pretty awful, and I didn’t know how to contend with that. Still, I didn’t imagine cheating on him with Jeff or anyone. I went upstairs, took off my clothes and crawled into bed. 3 am. Without meaning to, I woke up my husband.
“Good God!” said the soon to be X, “You stink. Go take a shower!”
The next day I started looking for a job. A couple of days later, I called Jeff.
Freezing temps, the sky silver with snow, Airborne crystalline promises shimmer. In the morning light, minute spectra glimmer. I leash my big white dog and off we go. Hoar frost on the bare trees’ smallest branches breaks free and falls on my dog and me. As we walk beneath the cottonwood trees Across the snowy field, the fresh snow crunches. The parallel tracks of Nordic skis shadow Our path through the brown and golden tones, Blue shadows, the angled light of winter noon. Ahead, Mt. Blanca, covered with snow. I stop, rest my hand on my dog’s warm back, she leans against my leg, savoring our gelid paradise.
I haven’t tried this since high school. My sophomore English teacher said that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to learn to write sonnets so I would learn the discipline involved in the effective use of language. I wrote a bunch back then. They really are not easy and I don’t know if he was right nor not, but this was fun. 🙂
The protests against the police brutality that killed George Floyd have gone on for 9 days? 10 days? Yesterday I found myself wondering what the goal is. When will protestors know they are finished or is it a thing now that will go on and on and on and on?
Last night is the first night I’ve slept since the protests started. If their goal was to make white people think about things they haven’t thought about before, it worked here. I wrote one blog post about (now set to private) and a letter to Obama (never sent).
There are things related to it that I haven’t thought of for decades, one of which is Louis Farrakhan. It’s a fact that not all white people are racist and not all black people are NOT racist. Farrakhan, who is an extremely angry man — has claimed that it’s impossible for black people to be racists. Any anger they feel toward the white oppressor is justified and any action taken against whites is legitimate. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Farrakhan — and his organization — as black nationalist and black supremacist.
He spoke once at the university where I was teaching. It was a hate fueled speech. It made the work of ordinary people — I’ll say ordinary white people — seem hopeless. The next day, when I got to school, I found the ground littered with 4 x 5 inch black and white flyers, printed with swastikas and the words, “White men built this country.”
One extreme brought out the other.
I picked up a couple of those flyers and took them home and stuck them in a drawer imagining a future collage that never happened. “It’s never going to work,” I remember thinking, “as long as entire groups of people categorically hate each other.”
In other news, the hike I’d planned with my friends yesterday didn’t happen. I texted everyone at 5 am yesterday and said, “I haven’t been sleeping. I’m going to keep trying.” or something. I finally went to sleep and woke up at 8:30 to see their texts. They answered immediately planning between them an alternative way that we could get together. It turned out to be a “Bring your own cuppa'” tea party in Elizabeth’s beautiful back yard.
The other thing on my phone when I woke up was a voicemail from the Good-X. I listened and then I screamed. He’d had a major heart attack and was in the hospital but he said, “They fixed me up.” I called him back after I’d had some coffee and got the whole story and answered some questions he had for me. As we were saying goodbye, I had to hold myself back from saying, “I love you.” How would he understand those words? Two people can have a terrible marriage and yet form a functional and mostly happy life together. We did for 12 years. His younger son is “my” son and between his family and me all the “I love you’s” are said often. In the “I love you” that I did not say are all the experiences we shared — China being one of them. Part of it, also, is “I get who you are now.” Instead of “I love you,” I said, “Come back and visit me. That was fun last time.” He and his step-grandson came through Monte Vista a few years ago on their way to Durango to meet his wife who was at a dahlia conference.
“I will. That was fun,” he said.
I told my friends about it at the tea party later. When I told them about wanting to tell my ex “I love you,” they understood. We talked about C-19, our encounters with people during this time, the weirdness, the beauty.. We laughed and did all the things that make friendships and, I think, for all of us, it was an incredible relief. None of us has been sleeping and as we talked about it, it seemed that our sleep was taking the same trajectory. Going to sleep, waking up thinking and then either getting up ungodly early or going to sleep a few hours later. I asked if they’d like to go on a evening hike to the Refuge with me when the skies and light are beautiful and the breeze is calm and fresh. Now we sort of have a plan.
Elizabeth’s husband, Bob, came out of the garage where he’s building a 1957 T-bird. I like talking to Bob and he likes telling me stories, so as my friends went off to cut rhubarb (some for me) Bob told me stories about airplanes. I don’t know that he always has a willing listener and the words just poured out of him. Later he came over and installed a new pneumatic spring on my storm door.
The day went on with curious intensity, culminating in a 1 1/2 hour phone call with my formerly lost cousin, Linda. We’re catching up on each others entire adult lives. She wanted to know about how my brother’s death affected me. That’s a long story. We talked about the deaths of the people we loved, a strange coda to my morning.
I was struck again that all we really have in this life are dreams, memories and the love we bear for others. That’s it.
I love Switzerland. I’ve been there ten times, give or take, and if I could, I’d live there. If my heart has a home (outside of Heaven) it’s Switzerland, or maybe it’s the other way. Heaven might be my compensation for not being able to live in Switzerland.
In front of me here are my talismans. There is a photo of the restaurant in Zürich with Goethe painted on the front I took in Zürich in 1998. There is a Wanderweg sign I took from a fallen tree in the Canton of St. Gallen. There is a photo of the Jungfraujoch I took the summer of 1997.
My Swiss story is complicated and mostly private, but I can say this. The strange and dangerous choices we make in our lives are sometimes the very ones we need to take us to our destiny. I found not only my writer’s voice but my story in Switzerland in 1997 in the little church below, the Lazariterkirche im Gfenn.
I found other things, too.
I found Goethe in Switzerland, in profile, painted on the front of a restaurant across from St. Peter’s Church with the inscription, “In 1779, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe stayed here with the Duke of Weimar.” Seeing that there — without even (yet) having read anything by Goethe — I was awakened to the essence of time in Europe. It was one of those moments that explodes your brain and catapults you from the person you were toward the person you will be. Then, of course, a few years later, I read Goethe. Here’s his beautiful poem about the Zürichsee, “Auf dem See” (“On the Lake”).
Und frische Nahrung, neues Blut Saug ich aus freier Welt; Wie ist Natur so hold und gut, Die mich am Busen hält! Die Welle wieget unsern Kahn Im Rudertakt hinauf, Und Berge, wolkig himmelan, Begegnen unserm Lauf.
And fresh nourishment, new blood Suck I from the free world; Nature is so fair and good She holds me at her bosom! The wave rocks our boat Upwards with the rhythm of the oars And mountains, cloudy heavenwards, Meet our course.
Aug, mein Aug, was sinkst du nieder? Goldne Träume, kommt ihr wieder? Weg, du Traum! so gold du bist; Hier auch Lieb und Leben ist.
Eye, my eye, why do you sink down? Golden dreams, do you come again? Away, you dream! As gold as you are, Here too are life and love.
Auf der Welle blinken Tausend schwebende Sterne, Weiche Nebel trinken Rings die türmende Ferne; Morgenwind umflügelt Die beschattete Bucht, Und im See bespiegelt Sich die reifende Frucht.
On the wave blink Thousands of hovering stars, Soft mists drink The towering distance all around; Morning wind envelops The shadowed bay, And in the lake is reflected The ripening fruit.
Over the years I also learned that part of my family came from Switzerland and I learned their amazing stories (and wrote them into novels).
Switzerland is not just places and history. It is a family to which I once belonged. Long walks in the forest, the Wallisellerwald. Christmases and birthdays. Quiet explorations of unknown places. Following the Sylvester Kläuse through the snow in Appenzell on New Years, and sitting in a tavern on a hillside in Usnacht next to an old Appenzeller man with a tiny spoon hanging from his ear. When young boys dressed as trees came in to yodel, I watched a tear run down the old man’s face. Maybe he was remembering when he was a boy, dressed as a tree, tromping and dancing through the snow, bells ringing, singing.
I’ve had some cool pets over the years. Not mine to start with but I often ended up with them for a while. I’ve been the co-human and temporary-human for snakes, spiders and a green iguana.
One of them is more than twenty years old now, a ball python was who only recently “sexed” and re-named Samira. Until last winter she was known to all and sundry as Mr. Slithers.
I had the pleasure of snake-sitting Samira for a while my friend returned to Europe for a long visit with his family. This meant I had to procure live meals for her. My little pit bull LOVED that show. When I came in the door with the rat, Persie could smell it. She would start jumping up with joy. (Terriers are terriers.) I would say, “You want to watch TV, Persie?” and she’d dance all around me. We’d go into the room where Samira (then Mr. Slithers) was living and I would drop the rat into the tank. Persie would sit, eyes rapt on Samira just like a kid from the 1950s watching Saturday morning cartoons. If Samira was hungry (and that was usually the case) she would employ her hunting stragedy. I know what Persie wanted was the rat, but, as long as she could watch the show, Persie honestly seemed happy to let Samira have it. Of course, if Samira didn’t want it (this happened maybe once) Persie got to hunt it in the backyard.
Besides Samira, in this menagerie were the green iguana (Wilma), the Nelson’s milk snake, Sydney, Ananda, the red-tail boa and the ill-fated rosy tarantula, Kinky Boots. There were more. There was a tarantula named, uh, Martha, and a nasty poisonous spider whose name I have forgotten but whose little tank I managed to clean.
Ananda — the snake around my neck in the featured photo — was a baby red-tail boa. These guys grow to be immense as you see below.
But while Ananda lived with me he was a little guy and very “affectionate.”
If you’re going to have a snake, it’s important to handle them often so they are used to people otherwise, well, you might be using your imagination a lot reading this post anyway. Ananda hung out with/on me whenever I was home. He liked to make a hammock of my t-shirt, going in the left sleeve, across the back, and resting his head in the right sleeve. He was so tame that one day as I was grading papers, he decided to shed. To shed, a snake needs a certain texture that’s rough and resistant but not too rough (a nice rock, a log). He bumps his nose against the resistant surface then drags himself across the rough surface to take off the old skin, sort of like taking off panty-hose. I was sitting there, expressing dismay over comma splices and employing my red pen as needed. I felt Ananda on my head. It was a hot summer day and my hair was up in a twist, held by a barrette. Suddenly, there was a hard pull on my hair. OW!! I wondered what was going on up there. I got up, went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and saw Ananda was shedding. I know it sounds gross (and was in a way), but from a snake’s point of view it was kind of an honor to me. Snakes seek privacy and safety when they shed. It’s the time they are most vulnerable to predation. That Ananda felt safe shedding on his human was a huge compliment.
If you have animals like these in your life you have to adapt your own habitat to theirs, but you also have to make a good habitat for them.
We adopted Wilma, the green iguana, from a neighbor whose kids had HAD to have her and then didn’t care for her. She was pretty young, but not a baby. She had a giant tank with large branches to climb on. I found a towel made a good “substrate” because the texture was perfect for her, and it was easy for me to clean. True, it didn’t look like the forest or something and wasn’t all that scenic, but Wilma was happy. What she liked MOST was going outside with me. She loved — and needed — real sunshine and fresh air. I planted a hedge of red hibiscus for her because hibiscus flowers are one of the favorite foods of these animals. Feeding them can be the biggest challenge.
They grow quite large, and anticipating that, my friend found her a home with someone who was able to give her a much better habitat than I/we ever would as she grew.
Sydney was a sweet young milk snake who really LOVED me. I won’t go into the details, but there was NOTHING he loved more than a nice warm bath/swim being dried by a towel. Milk snakes are a variety of king snakes. Sydney, and many other king snakes have the coloring of a coral snake, red, yellow and black, but the bands are in a different order and they are not venomous.
One of the great benefits of having gotten to know Sydney was improved snake identification in the “wild.” Knowing all these creatures taught me a lot about the beings I was surrounded by on my hikes but seldom saw. I saw a lot of snakes on my rambles — most often rattlesnakes — but sometimes king snakes and rosy boas. One day I was hiking in the Laguna Mountains and had the privilege of seeing this beautiful, rare, very shy little guy:
I don’t know if we should make pets out of these wonderful animals, but since we do, the best we can do is make sure they have a good life. I do know that my life would have been less without having had the chance to live with them.