Friday, April 22, 2005

A Comparison

For your reading pleasure, a comparison of two different descriptions of snake encounters by Colin Fletcher:

"Across the Trail, five feet ahead, stretched a sinuous brown evilness. As I stumbled back, it rattled. The sound was hard and dry. It began with a rhythm no faster than an outboard motor, then ripped up to a climax so vibrant it was almost a hiss." (28, The Thousand-Mile Summer)

"Six paces and I stopped. From a little bundle of sticks on the bank, twenty feet ahead, came a familiar buzzing. Slowly, so as not to disturb the beavers, I made unthreatening passes with my staff. The snake was pale pink, about three feet long, and as pathetically frightened as most disturbed rattlesnakes are. After a minute or two it slid sideways into the thicket. When I walked on I gave a respectfully wide berth to the place it had disappeared. But our meeting had been a quiet and gentlemanly affair. It had no way disturbed the evening's new warmth and harmony." (158, The Man Who Walked Through Time)

These snake encounters occurred five years apart. The comparison isn't something Fletcher ignores either. After the description of the pink rattlesnake, he mentions how upon seeing his first rattlesnake he was "scared purple". That would pretty much sum up my first encounter with a rattlesnake as well. I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail, listening to my Walkman ('The Sound of Silence' by Paul Simon happened to be playing right then), when I heard something at my feet. I looked down, jumped, yelled, and ran about 100 yards back down the trail before I even really realized what had just happened. After Josh arrived, we went well around the snake, still sitting in the trail, and carried on. It was a long time before I hiked with my Walkman on again.

My perceptions changed a little bit with each rattlesnake and copperhead that I saw. By the time I was nearing the end the trail, Dad, who hiked the last week with us, couldn't believe how easily I went around the snakes. The snakes and their behaviours hadn't changed. They continued to be the docile or 'pathetically frightened' creatures they were the first few times I encountered them. I had changed. I had come to accept them as part of the environment that made hiking Appalachian Trail such an amazing experience. It wouldn't have been so powerful if there hadn't been times when I was pushed to confront my limits. Part of that was facing my fear of hiking where there are poisonous snakes. Gaining some actual firsthand experience with the snakes brought my fear in line with reality. I still have a very healthy amount of respect for rattlesnakes, I just don't have the same unrealistic fear of them.


At 2:00 p.m., Anonymous Josh said...

Nicely done. You're making me want to read these books again.

There is something about that fear which seems to pierce you. For me it was right in the breastbone, a shot of adreniline.

"Gentlemanly" is a great description of what it turns into.


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