This simple day of dying
I was walking down a dirt road, attacked by a rattlesnake. It knew I was coming, had heard my footsteps as I passed by the first time on my way out to the edge of the farm. Smart thing, calculating, angry because I disturbed his sleep. Me in my dream state, I was oblivious to said creepy crawler on the edge of the road, his hiding place was near a spigot my wife and I kept turned on because it gave water to the cows in the pasture. There it tried to stay cool, sprawled out at full length.
Then my thundering lumbering body sounded like an earthquake to him. I had my headphones in listening to old tunes from the 70s, humming to Steve Miller’s ‘Jet Air Plane,’ don’t take me too far away. The perfect morning, or so I thought. The road under my feet felt spongy from the recent rain, and Charley scampered on ahead, oblivious to the danger off to the side. We reached the end of our path going one way, and the silly K9 with floppy ears stopped early, knowing I’d be turning around the mailboxes which sat at the intersection of the access road, and the wider county road. I thought he might be at my heels, but he wasn’t. Lazy dog. I yelled out, “cheater,” but his wide grin was indifferent. He pretended not to hear my lambaste. That’s OK, I thought, I’ll catch up to him. As I neared the place where the snake burrowed, he coiled and rattled. Again, I could not hear his warning, though, he thought I did, and that made him even more angry. He cursed my disturbing footfalls, like I was some kind of evil interloper invading his territory.
The grass was high enough that it kept him out of sight, and his eyes peeked through the blades, his nose tamping down the longer strands, he sought out the best position for the attack, his attack, his powerful body contracting and expanding. As I neared the turn in the road, just past the corral, where the water spigot jutted out of the ground, and the pump, housed in a wooden frame, hummed below it, my head was turned in the other direction, toward the bluffs, the beautiful crown rock, with fluffy white clouds floating overhead, where I lounged after the gratifying hikes over the rare landscape, guessing at what shapes the clouds took—from big horns, deer, bunny rabbits, even badgers, the whole range of life in this dimension. That is the place I thought most of these legless creatures might be.
Today, it was not so. This one braved the man-made contraptions which he had been warned about since he was a tiny wriggling creature with so many others, nature against them, the odds of them perishing before adulthood were great. However, he believed this is the one day in which he thought he could prevail. Once I had shown my giant stance, at least from his perspective, and my shadow fell across the road and stretched toward the waving grasses, he moved deftly from his resting place, knowing at the exact time he should cross the dusty road to block my way.
If had looked closer on the trip out to the edge of the farm, I would have noticed the squiggly path that he left there in the dust on his way to his shady napping area. By now Metallica played on my iPhone, “Unforgiven, Nothing Else Matters,” and I was beginning to feel the highs of the run, when the endorphins spread throughout my limbs, but mostly my head, making me feel invincible, like I could run up the stairs to heaven. I suppose this was also ironic in a way, that we human beings are not invulnerable to folly, frailty, faults and fruitlessness. We can be stopped dead in our tracks, as I was, when the Mr. Rattler shook his tail violently, and before I could notice his swift moves, he had already lurched toward my naked legs, by instinct, trying to avoid this darting motion, so much that one of my legs, I forget which, stuck in front of the other, and landed hard on the ground, stopping my momentum, twisting my torso as though a lassoed cow, to earth.
Instantly, I felt a pain in my calf, as though needles from a syringe, and from these needles, the injection of deadly venom. It took a few moments before I realized what had happened. Shock began to overtake me, then fear. I was vulnerable, there on the ground, gathering my feet toward me. Fear. It was the worst thing. The blood to my heart quickened, although it may seem like a long way for the venom to travel. My heart pumped harder. My body’s defenses kicked in, and I could feel a numbness in my leg. I told myself that whatever else took place, I would not think of death, but of what I could do to survive.
Mr. Snake sauntered up to me and said, “Did you think you could sneak by me today?”
He slithered to the pasture side of the road, where a few cows looked over the barbed wire, just beyond the irrigation ditch, which was filled to the brim with water. He sat on the berm, just feet away from the flowing water. I thought how cool that must feel on his body, which after emerging from the shade, must be cooking in the unrelenting sun, as my skin had during the run. The farmer’s tan along my arms had grown more distinct over the days.
“Did you think I was going to just let this go?” He hissed. “You waking me up during my afternoon siestas, and just because you are Man, so high and mighty, that you could not be taught a lesson by the likes of me?”
I don’t know if it had anything to do with the venom now clouding my thoughts, but his slithery tongue came out like whispers, and his eyes darted from one end of my prone body to the other, perhaps judging which part to strike next if I should move suddenly. Then the answer came. I was being held a hostage while death took over. It crept along my leg, and my only defense was my mind, telling me it was not time. Not yet anyway. My phone was nearby. It had fallen to the far side of the road, away from Mr. Snake. I spied it, but then so did he. He coiled his body, as though knowing my thoughts before I did.
“Not on your life,” he said, laughing at the irony of what he had just whispered. This wasn’t going well. I had to call my wife. I hung on to that singular thought. I had to call my wife. I had to call Lisa. I kept repeating this over and over, as my body began to move involuntarily in the direction of the phone. I felt, that no matter what I did, Mr. Snake was going to follow me, I couldn’t wait him out, even though I knew the sun was baking him. He guessed the venom would take me first. The plush grass beneath him was too pleasant for him to move too far out of it, back onto the hot and dusty road, where his previous squiggles were beginning to disappear in the breeze.
“You will die,” he said. “You will not survive this day.”
And just in case my body didn’t hear what he had said. He repeated himself, “you will not survive this.”
Finally, I couldn’t let this continue. The sweat from my brow. Charley had sensed something, and had made a U-turn from a half mile up the road. He saw the maleficent creature, coiling and uncoiling. He barked vehemently, as he raced toward it, jutting forth, his paws digging up chunks of earth. The vicious growls mixed with the frothy saliva. I grabbed the phone, lunging, hopefully out of reach. Charley crossed back and forth between the savage Mr. Snake, keeping me from relative danger, keeping me safe.
The rattler, felt if he was gong to win this battle, his chance was to take another bite into my leg. And before I thought it, he sank his fangs in the fatty part of my leg, at the same time, I had pressed the buttons to call me wife. I could barely hear her on the other side of the line, or I mean the connection.
“Frank?” She said, “Is everything OK? You’re slurring, and I can barely hear what you are saying.”
The phone fell out of my hand, Charley still shielding me. In my ridiculous fantasy, he was wearing a cape, and a small S formed on his chest. My vision began to fade, the clouds gathered, like it does on a hot summer day in west Nebraska.
“You knew the dangers,” the Rattler said. “You knew this day might come. There’ is no one to blame but you.”
Charley kept barking, but he knew my breath was quickly disappearing. I could hear Lisa on the phone, yelling, “Frank, are you there, tell me what’s happening, why is Charley barking like that?”
I could only dream that I might be saved. The blue sky pulsed above me, like waves; the wetness on my forehead spilled down into large heavy rivulets, hitting the ground like raindrops. Charley was clearly quick enough to dodge the lunges of the snake. Brave. I thought. You deserve the medal of honor, my dear friend. That’s like standing in the way of machine gun fire. I couldn’t let go, not just yet. Grasping for the phone again, I brought it closer to my mouth, my face finding a nice cool pillow in the dust. I tasted the dirt like it was the best last meal I would ever have. I brought enough air into my lungs, the wheezed in a guttural yell toward the phone.
“Snake bite!” Then exhaled, blowing the dust up around my face. “I’m sorry,” I said, but that never came out. There I stood, staring at my lifeless body, examining the damage. No longer did I feel in crisis, as I watched my nemesis, glory in this, the felling of a human so arrogant. They think they can tromp through anyone’s home. This land doesn’t belong to him, nor anyone. It belongs to all of us. The snake was right, and I felt bad that I didn’t come to this realization sooner, but there I stood, hoping Charley wouldn’t stick around too long.
Mr. Snake became disinterested in taking on a new foe, and went about his day, toward the higher ground of the bluff, perhaps back to its nest. I thought, what is next? While I sit here. My body wasn’t quite done, but I was outside of it, waiting. The sun seemed to be getting brighter, but I was no longer feeling its rays. Then hours seemed to pass, though it was only minutes. Out of the sky, blotting out the sun for a moment, an eagle landed near my still body, which lay almost motionless, except for the shallow breath. It saw my spirit, and knew that I could ride his wings. He hopped around on the dusty floor, where the air seemed to take on this thick dream-like state. Finally, the umbilical cord which attached me to my body, the faithful vessel which allowed me such good memories, finally let go. In the snap of a finger, but this one like a loud thunder clap, I became the eagle, entering its majestic body.
The snake reared its head up from the tall prairie grass, where the cows had minutes ago shuffled, smart to avoid the same fate as me. They decided to watch as spectators from a safe distance. While the snake, realizing the eagle was now presented a more formidable challenge to its survival. He knew, that he would not make it out of the tall grass, to the safe crevices of the winding canyons that led up to his family’s nest.
The eagle which I had entered lifted off the ground with the powerful thrust of his wings—now my wings. The sharpness of my vision increased 10-fold, maybe more, I could not put a measure on its keenness, but I could see for great distances the minutest of movements on the prairie, as though having the deep spiritual sense of everything in God’s creation. I felt my heart beat like never before at the wide expanse of the farm. The snake coiled in place awaiting my arrival. I circled from above, screaming, letting the piercing song from my beak echo off the walls of the bluffs below. The breeze, which had gained speed, seemed inconsequential, and aided in my lift and maneuvers. I let my screams grow louder.
Mr. Snake grew petrified, not knowing where I would land, whether it be beside him, and if my heavy claws would dig into his thick round body, which they did, even to my surprise—noting the accuracy of my swift movements. Razor sharp, they cut into his skin. It was enough to stop him. The weight of my avian feathers, and thick talons, pinned him down, the snake’s fangs useless in this battle. It ended, as the life of my human body ended, so did Mr. Snake, and he would not be remembered in this deed. I flew into the sky with my prey dangling from my curled toes. My hungry spirit would not feel differently.
I could choose to live in this eagle’s day, honored by the spirit animal appearing for my vengeance. Or was this vengeance? Was it a series of lessons, that I should recognize the humbleness of the eagle, not like the false arrogance I had been living, so easily prone to bashing the snake’s brothers over the head with a shovel, but it was nature’s way, that a hungry eagle should pass by, seeing a chance to satisfy his hunger, as well as carry the spirit of one seeking forgiveness, once more, as my human form died. Then, I learned this final lesson, that it wasn’t vengeance, but a greater appreciation for Nature’s delicate balance. My distorted views of life had kept me from this, the corruption of thought, the made-up rights I thought were God given, and endowed by the universe. They were not. I am one of the many forms seeking Love, and let this sink into my core. Remaining with the eagle as he tore into the snake’s body, and tasted the flesh, I could feel the part of the snake that nourished the bird of prey, that nourished me. I, as eagle, would remember this day, long into my soul’s journey across this universe. On this simple day of dying.