If I were Native American and a believer in shape shifters, I would be flush with the knowledge that an omen had revealed itself to me. In the month of May four big black snakes made their appearance. Spring is here.
I saw the coils of the first turning over and into a crumbling stone wall near a barn. Its iridescent midsection was as thick as my forearm. My friend jumped and said, “What…!!,” but I stared as if I had just seen something brand new in creation.
The second unwound quickly from a berry bush next to a stream. My foot fall triggered its shift. Again, I missed seeing its head. It slipped away into the water, thick, large and quiet.
Wolfie found numbers three and four on a mowed path through high grass near a brushy rivulet. They were sunning and were stretched out, each at least five feet in length. He sits and watches an object when he has not seen it before, when it has not been configured into his experience. He measures it.
I came around a bend in the grass and he was sitting straight up, his ears peaked, intently watching something that was a long black not-a-stick from several feet away. The snake must have picked up my heavier vibrations because it raised its head and showed its tongue. Wolfie stood, head bowed, sniffing, in pounce mode. I called for him to sit. Reluctantly he obeyed, and in that moment, number three vanished into the grass, poof, gone. Wolfie nosed the spot where it had disappeared and then, focused and cool, set off on one of his border collie jobs, scouting the path ahead.
Black Rat or Indigo or Racer, black snakes kill by constriction and are the terror of mice and rats. They will bite if provoked, but they possess teeth, not fangs. They can reach eight feet in length.
Wolfie was in step next to me when I almost brought my boot down on number four. Feeling cornered, it coiled and drew its head back, ready to strike. In a two or three second flash all this happened: Awkwardly, I skipped off my anchored foot, landed and turned to see Wolfie nosing within inches of the snake’s raised head. With absolute clarity I saw it strike in slow motion, as if both dog and snake were isolated in individual frames of a film that was unwinding in the slowest time, the snake’s mouth opening and its coil unravelling and arching toward Wolfie who withdrew his head and curved his body like a bow, the snake’s strike ending in empty air, and Wolfie landing and in one motion setting himself low and intent, face forward, his eyes locked on the snake which had again coiled, his tongue flicking, testing the air. I shouted for Wolfie to “Hold!,” and sidled over, eye on the snake, Wolfie still, grabbed him by the collar and slowly pulled him back, attached the leash and speaking softly, turned him and walked away, the snake’s head still up. We walked ten feet, and when I turned, I saw its tail disappearing into the deep brush near the stream.
We walked on, Wolfie ahead, confident, while I kept my eyes open for more black twists, for another not-a-stick, in the wet deep grass.
Wolfie After Number 4, in repose.