Operation Snake Rescue

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Hissy

A rustle in the dry leaves at the upper end of my garden is not unusual. But this rustling went on for a while and so it caught my attention. What I saw was the tail end of a snake. “KIDS! You gotta see this!” I hollered. Very cautiously, I approached close enough to ascertain whether or not this creature was poisonous or not. Looking for the telltale rattle, I inched closer, snapped a photo on my Android, and backed away. It looked docile enough and it must have been afraid of us because it didn’t move for a very long time. I confirmed through the city naturalist that I had a gopher snake on my hands. It was most welcome. The rodents were a worse menace than the snake! Eat all you want, Mr. Gopher Snake!

The next day, I decided to see if Hissy, as the kids had named it, was still in the bushes between our house and the neighbor’s. I could see Hissy coiled up but something wasn’t right. Gasp. There was black netting around his “neck” and face. Concerned that there was now a large dead gopher snake in the bushes decaying I called the neighbors to suggest working together to extract Hissy. They never returned my call. Which brings us to the third day. I came home from a very hot session of horseback riding and figured I better check on the chickens who were panting worse than the dog. And I wandered up toward the top of the garden to see Hissy’s body. Oddly enough, it was now hanging partly under my fence again. That snake was NOT dead… or it was having an extremely long period of dying. In fact, when I brushed its tail with a twig, it shuddered and contracted. Hissy needed help and fast. I grabbed the pruning sheers from the shed and stuck them through the fence hacking away at the netting as best I could. Eventually, I cut away enough of the netting that I could gently pull Hissy’s body through the fence with a long, thick stick. Now that his head was clearly in sight, I saw that he was choked in two places. I put a bucket over him to keep Winston from messing with him and ran into the house for a pair of scissors. This was going to be finer, closer work than pruning sheers would handle. With the scissors in one hand and the large stick in the other, I carefully began cutting the tightest spots. When that last choking chord was sliced, Hissy’s body curled up, contracted, slithered, sighed. Now, there was just a chunk of netting around his face. Again, stick in hand, and with steady scissors, I began cutting away around eyes that were now focusing and alert. As the netting fell away, Hissy grew more and more animated. I never did get the netting completely off his mouth before he high-tailed it deep into the bushes. Perhaps that last bit will keep him from eating; I don’t know. But I did my best.

I’ve given you the photographic version of the story. Add in the emotional. A snake in the garden was in fact nightmarish for me. I can deal with the idea of snakes when a trained professional is explaining and showing them … like recently at my son’s 6th birthday party when Owen brought his boa constrictor, corn snake, California King Snake, and gopher snake to share. But this was remarkably close to home and reinforced that notion that creeps me out… there are things lurking that I can’t see and I don’t know if they are malignant or benign. Shudder. What was even worse was the next day when the snake was still there… seemingly dead. By day two, Hissy had a name and a gender to help him fit into my paradigms. He wasn’t just “a snake.” God has made amazing creatures and populated His world with them. The markings, the beauty, the potential for danger were all, in their own creepy way, attractive. And I was forming an odd little bond with Hissy. I have never been one to see pain in someone’s eyes and not feel a measure of it myself. And I saw, as faintly as it was through the ivy leaves, a measure of pain and voidedness in Hissy’s. By the third day when it was evident that Hissy was clinging to life by threads as fine as those binding him in place, I couldn’t take it. Creepy or not, Hissy deserved a chance. As I worked over his body in the hot sun, I found at one point an incredible desire to touch him. Remembering all the city naturalist’s lessons about how to pet a snake, I reached out and stroked his midsection. Soft, supple, amazing. I am proud of doing what I did for Hissy, concerned about his future, and saddened that I may never see him again. For three days, he was a constant in my life. Loathed and feared at first, he grew to be endearing and action-prompting… not because he changed, but because I changed.

I will be the first to admit that not every human I interact with do I find endearing and action-prompting. Toward many I have a gut-level reaction that is less than generous. It is an intimate and convicting reminder of my own humanity. As much as I seek to model my life after Christ’s, I’m not there yet.

Our team that recently returned from Tanzania and Kenya were met with situations that on occasion left them thoroughly grossed out. At one point, they were taken to a Maasai village… one of the most impoverished places they had seen yet. Here, the houses were built of cow dung and the animals were paddocked “in town” during the night. Consequently, during a demonstration of how to start a cow dung fire, the four team members were covered in flies. Flies thicker than you can possibly imagine. Anne was given a fly swatter made from elephant hairs; according to her it merely shifted the flies from one part of her body to another. That would have totally been outside my comfort zone! It was disgusting.

Later, when the team visited the Tanzania Christian Clinic, they met Sabina, one of the nurses who works there. Her purpose is to attend to the mommies and babies who come to the clinic. While the team was there, a young lady of 21 years came to see Sabina. She brought her child for a check-up. During their conversation, the young lady explained that this was her fourth child; she had given birth to her first-born at the tender age of 10. My daughter just turned 10. If you don’t think this information was a kick in the gut, think again.

My point here is simple. Gross, frightening, loathsome, horrific – choose your adjective – the world is full of it all. Some of it is the way we have grown to perceive things, like flies and snakes, and some of it is because of the way evil has sway. But spending time with it, getting to know it, caring for it, strips away the filth and the fear and reveals both a beauty and a greater need. Underneath every ugly is beauty. Inside every fearsome is a soft spot. Behind every horrific is the redeemable. Whether it is a snake trapped in netting, the people of the Maasai village trapped in abject poverty, or a young lady trapped in a society that embraces polygamy and child brides, we are called to serve and care for everyone.

I’m not sure how Danny and Nancy Smelser of Tanzania Christian Clinic or Dawn Leppan of 1000 Hills or Cindy Cunningham of Village of Hope do it all the time… face the ugly, the hurt, the broken day after day after day searching for the beauty, cutting away the traps and fetters of disease, seeking to heal the whole body spiritually and physically. But they do. I am thrilled that through my support of CompassioNow and Compassion Tea, I am able to provide the tools they need to do so. And I am confident that God gives them the strength they need to carry on.

Just as He used me over the last three days to free a snake. And isn’t it interesting that freeing that snake has given me so much too. Hissy is free… but so am I… free from a fear. That’s one down… oh so many to go!

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3 Comments

  1. Kelly McIntosh

     /  July 20, 2013

    Linda,

    Glad you “changed”… and I got to read about your change from the safety of my computer screen! Ugggg! That was a hard one to read and harder to image as you stroked Hissy’s soft, supple, amazing self. Snakes… not a friend of mine for sure!! J

    BUT, not near as hard to read as you move on to Africa… a real life jungle with a real-life snake! L

    Thanks for sharing… AND caring for those trapped in this world!!

    2 Cor 5:17

    Kelly

    Reply
  2. SSSS 🙂 so glad I found you via Five Minute Friday. Just did my first at http://www.dancinmoma.wordpress.com. 🙂 Following you now as well.

    Reply

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