by Andrea Chilcote
One October evening, upon arriving home at dusk, I opened a side patio door intending to walk out and turn a light on. The minute I opened the door and raised my right foot to step out, I heard the unmistakable and very loud buzz of a rattlesnake. Instantly I backed up, slammed the door shut, screamed loudly (frightening my husband and dogs), then ran to get a flashlight. The snake was inches from the glass door, in strike pose, rattling incessantly.
The presence of rattlesnakes is one of the small things I tolerate in order to live in what I call the “real” desert of Cave Creek, Arizona, outside of the more civilized cities of the Phoenix metro area. I have encountered many snakes, though I never before experienced this prolonged defense behavior. Snakes do not view humans as prey, and Western Diamondbacks, the species on my patio, will generally retreat as soon as their perceived danger has passed. Uncharacteristically, this creature rattled its angry warning for nearly 20 minutes until being removed by a reluctant but kind friend. During that time, it seemed to watch us through the glass pane of the door, and we could hear the awful sound inside the house.
This rattler left me rattled. I thought about its strange behavior all evening, and did not sleep well. Could it have had a message for me?
With the dawn, the message dawned on me. I had been as angry as that snake.
The day before had arrived with very sad news. Weeks prior, my husband and I had temporarily housed and nurtured a beautiful though severely malnourished husky dog who had been abandoned in the desert mountains. Our dear friend in Santa Fe had lovingly agreed to adopt Lily. We drove her to New Mexico to her forever home, only to learn a week later that she was very ill. Despite unconditional care and love, Lily passed away on Sunday, leaving chasms in the hearts of her new family and ours. I don’t know if a dog could have been more loved by her family in such a short time.
On Monday I was grieving. I thought it was sadness I felt. But it was more than that. I felt anger. Anger at whoever had dumped this sweet soul. Anger that I live in a world where so much senseless pain exists. And anger at myself for not being capable of changing it all.
Early on Tuesday morning, I reluctantly told my friend Beth, who had been with me post-incident the night before, that I understood rattlesnake’s message. “But anger is so unproductive,” I said. “There is ample anger in the world and surely I do not wish to add to it!”
Beth’s response was perfect. She said, in a matter-of-fact manner, “Well, in my view it’s far more unproductive to let it fester unnoticed than to become aware of it and deal with it.”
Ah, yes. Unexamined feelings fester. And, like festered wounds, they seep out. Buried emotions are eventually acted out in some unproductive way. Transformation occurs the very moment they are noticed. When we become present to our feelings, they no longer control us.
In Native American traditions, snakes offer powerful medicine. I am grateful to rattlesnake for showing me that anger could be felt with no harm done. The snake went on with his snake work that evening (far away from our home) and I am now able to go on with my work, which includes helping husky dogs. I am not jaded by my experience, though it would be tempting to feel overwhelmed by it all.
Is there a feeling you have not acknowledged? While it’s hard for our analytical brains to comprehend this fact, feeling the dangerous ones is what allows us to release them. If you don’t believe me, consult a snake.