Finding Solace in Snakeskin

A scaly handful of solace

Willow Lake.  6:46 pm.  A text sent to a friend.  “I am sitting at the top of the dells right now, releasing little bits of snakeskin into the wind.”

The snakeskin had been caught against the spiny stalk of a thistle.  Removing it required a great deal of care.  Usually I would have carried this find all the way home and added it to my curio cabinet of natural history objects.  Perhaps I would have done this, had I not felt suddenly drawn to climb up into the granite dells, those grainy hills that seem to be a different color every time I visit them.  Every evening, another shade.  Yesterday, the dells were marigold orange.  I picked my way through those petals and pressed upward towards blue, blue sky.

I found a good place to sit, overlooking the lake.  Female mallards swam circles through the green algal bloom, leading their clutches of newly hatched ducklings.  There were grebes, too, which have always looked to me like loons from a distance.  The wind picked up.  Whistling.  Persistent.  It gathered the water’s surface into shining hedgerows.

With nowhere else to keep it, the snakeskin was still in my fist.  It flicked and fluttered in the gusts, as though it were alive again for just a moment, a serpent rattling its tail.  Now and then, small pieces broke free and sailed through the air over the lake.  The scales were like feathers on the wind.  I was reminded of an article I read on the origin of birds.  Archaeopteryx.  Iberomesornis.  Reptiles with wings.  Bills lined with teeth.  It is a wonder, this world.  The way it rearranges its elements.  The way it creates what has never been before from what there is now.

Sitting on a stony rise, thinking of dinosaurs transforming slow-slow-slowly into birds, and watching the wind take back what I had gathered might seem like a strange way to spend a Tuesday evening.  Certainly.  But there was something soothing about it.  Very soon, I will move to Idaho.  Boise.  A place I have never been, and the only city I will have ever lived in.  I will start graduate school and teach classes on rhetoric and how to write a research paper.  I have never been terribly adept at making smooth or graceful transitions, and lately I have felt tense, tight, like I am holding onto something that does not want to be held.  Disappearing into the moving image of snakeskin in the wind was a kind of meditation.  It was a reminder that a moment of clarity and pause, however brief, might be anywhere.  Silly as it may sound, letting loose that snakeskin felt like letting loose something more.

Other small, delightful things: dayglo lichen. Algae like trees and fog seen from far, far away.

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