Validating Viper

Coincidence? No, not a chance. More likely some sort of coded message. One I may never comprehend. Yet I will hold out hope that I may have time to scale such a pinnacle of understanding before I pass on to the spirit land. Time’ll tell.

Honestly, truth be told, I had anticipated sitting here today to write about shad running like mad, migrating upriver with the all-out abandon that comes annually with 60-degree Connecticut River water temperatures. So, yes fellas, get out there virtually anywhere between Turners Falls and Holyoke and you’re gonna have a blast. That said, please allow me to digress by describing peculiar occurrences that slapped me upside the head Wednesday morning before noon, under bright skies and dry, pleasant air, a gentle, refreshing breeze pulsing from the north.

I have for the past couple of days been reading anthropologist Jeremy Narby’s intriguing “The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge,” which I discovered available in paperback on the front inside cover of the most recent Daedalus Books catalog. Yes, the book appears to have run its course. That’s why it’s now relegated to the Daedalus dead-letter bin for five bucks. Hey, I’ve discovered many books worth reading there at rock-bottom prices. This is just another.

The image of a snake and the word cosmic first caught my attention. Then I read the description and found it was about ceremonial use of the organic jungle hallucinogen ayahuasca by shamans of Amazonian rain forest seeking mystical journeys to the deep past and their own inner consciousness. Having crossed the topic of hallucinogen use by primitive tribes in North, South and Central America, and having been there for the experimental Sixties, the tease captivated me. So, yes, off I went on a hardcover search, eventually snagging an as-new copy for 43 bucks and change from a New York City dealer. I could have paid much more. Isn’t the Internet great for book-shopping?

Though I can’t say I understand everything Narby has to say, it’s a fascinating study indeed, one undoubtedly laughed off as “silly” by the keepers of conventional Eurocentric wisdom. I’m sure I will eventually reread it, then reread it again, plus maybe even check out some of the books listed in the bibliography. That’s how a man gets up to speed on such obscure, forbidden topics from the tropics.
Though I don’t intend to explain or even support Narby’s thesis, I would recommend his book to open-minded Woodstock Nation readers trying to understand matters old, psychedelic and confusing. For those who were there to ride the explorative wave, it’ll securely grab you and refuse to let go. For the doubters and the squeamish, forget it. They will out of hand dismiss Narby as a kook who went off on a wild, drug-induced journey to never-never land and has ever since been unable to find his way back to planet earth. It’s a shortsighted, closed-minded approach that leads one to a boring place of conventional reality in these dangerous times when people have probably never been in more need of an abrupt wake-up call. Talk about spinning off to a dangerous realm. We’re there, Dude, in the here and now, with the North and South Poles melting and oceans rising.

Anyway, having been immersed in this “Cosmic Serpent” concept — and the reasons why snakes and dragons and other serpent-like creatures are ubiquitous worldwide in ancient spiritual imagery found painted on cliffs and stones and caves — I was taking my daily walk with the dogs Wednesday when, lo and behold, I encountered some sort of message from an undisclosed locaton. It was almost like someone tapped me on the shoulder blade and said, “Hey, what you’ve been reading, keep with it. Try to understand. It’s real.”

Yes, wearing shorts and blue rubber Crocs, I had just looped my way around an aluminum gate, through small trees and tangled, head-high vines, and over a rotting, 10-inch-thick deadfall tree trunk, and there, out on the road in front of me not 10 feet away laid a snake I had never before encountered. I knew it was an Eastern milk snake because I had written about a couple just like it that had greeted neighbor Cynthia Nims in her Greenfield Meadows office drawer a few springs back.

Yes, having been made aware of this snake by writing that story, I had finally seen one for myself with my own brown eyes. Coiled in a series of tight S’s and perfectly still with its head extending west, the colorful snake had to be two feet long but thinner than I would have expected. I poked at it with my cane to see if it was alive. It didn’t move. Then I slid it a few inches forward and noticed the tongue flicking in and out. Yes, it was alive and well but not in the least bit scared or aggressive. My dogs had already passed it without any discernable reaction, and it was prepared to let me pass as well, even after I had twice poked at it lightly. Bare-legged and unafraid, I proceeded to walk right past it. Maybe two feet to my left, it never moved. Fifteen minutes later, on my return trip back up the hill and around the gate to my truck, it had disappeared into the brushy margins.

The sight of that colorful, red-and-khaki-banded viper hadn’t left me as I walked the Sunken Meadow perimeter along my daily path through green, waist-high grasses as my dogs bounded joyously from one side to the other. “Why today,” I repeatedly pondered. “It had to be a message.”

Had it been a garter snake, which I often see right around where the milk snake had appeared, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But this unfamiliar, dangerous-looking snake? No. That was different. Definitely a message in a language I could not decipher.

I got home, put the dogs in the kennel, parked my truck in its western carriage-shed bay and went inside the house, through a parlor and bedroom and into the kitchen. There I heard my sound system still playing Townes Van Zandt’s “Nashville Sessions,” my favorite Van Zandt CD. Knowing I’d be right back, I hadn’t turned off the CD player before walking the dogs.

What was playing for my return? Well, you’ll get a kick out of this: No lie — “The Snake Song.”

“Does this stuff happen to others?” I internally wondered. “Or  just me?”

Maybe someday I’ll be better able to answer that question. You can’t make it up. There had to be something in the air, something related to my reading about large, terrifying snakes commonly seen in hallucinations triggered by drinking an ayahuasca decoction.
There obstructing my daily path was a local, harmless but scary looking variation I had never before and may never again encounter.

Call it a validating viper.

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