The Snake Whisperer Part 1

It is tremendously easy to say something flippant like “I was born among snakes and that is why I like them.” But, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? I read stories all the time about family businesses shutting down because the next generation couldn’t care less about their parents’ passions.

I know musicians who wish their children would pick up an instrument and give it a try, but some of them never do. Immersion in something from childhood does not guarantee a love for that thing.

That being said, I was born among snakes and I still love them.

This past weekend Gypsy and I were lucky enough to spend a wonderful Sunday morning among friends and amazing creatures at the Pittsburgh Reptile Show in Cheswick Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh show is not huge by any means but what it does contain is a group of dedicated reptile breeders that genuinely love their animals and in my opinion strive for the safe, healthy propagation of the animals in their care.

We have only missed this monthly show a handful of times in the past three years. We go to see beautiful animals, visit with some of the most magical friends and to just basically enjoy a couple of hours immersed in one of our greatest passions.

My father loved, collected, kept and studied snakes for much of his 94 years on this planet and I find myself sometimes on this strange teeter-totter of emotion about that because at any given reptile show I may see half a dozen animals that my father with a lifetime of experience never got to experience.

This post is about a couple of those animals, though it may veer a bit into my views on animal keeping.

Our dear friends George and Desiree own a very cool pet store in Coraopolis Pa. called Off the Hook exotics and they were kind enough to bring this beautiful creature with them. I am not sure if he has a name but I nicknamed him Kreature after the house-elf in Harry Potter. Kreature is a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) that in and of itself is not unusual. Dad had probably a dozen of them in his lifetime and I have had at least that many in mine.

They are one of my favorite snakes in the world but the reason that I have not owned more of them is that they get huge. The retic is the longest snake in the world. Females can get upwards of twenty feet, pushing thirty and males can reach lengths of a dozen feet or more. In order to correctly house and care for such snakes in a way that maintains their quality of life is a very difficult task. And so, though we both loved them for the beautiful animals that they are, we have not sought them out and only kept ones that we took in as rescues.

But you see, here is where Kreature becomes a rarity. He is a naturally occurring dwarf python from an island locality known for producing smaller retics. He is several years old and between 6 and 7 feet long. Here he is.

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He sadly belongs to a friend of George & Desiree and so is not available but if he was, I would likely be trying to decide which kidney I could sell to buy him. He and I spent about 90 minutes together, just enjoying each other’s company as hundreds of people moved around us. I answered questions, helped dispel fears and allowed tiny children to touch Kreature’s miraculous skin and sent them on their way with the knowledge that they had touched the longest species of snake in the world.

I can only imagine the look of wonder on Dad’s face had he been around to see this snake. Beauty, intelligence, (yes, snakes can be very smart. Much smarter than they are given credit for.) and personality combined to make this one of the most awesome pythons I have ever been around and I want to thank George and Desiree for the opportunity.

Here are Kreature and I sharing a moment.

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There are two factions waging a secret, under the surface war in the reptile community. There are those to whom snakes and reptiles in general are nothing but a business. They breed thousands of snakes and their animals spend their entire lives in opaque plastic bins, in towering rack systems, seldom if ever handled and given no stimulation other than feeding and breeding and never knowing sunlight or fresh air.

The other group, the ones like me believe that these animals need to be cared for, stimulated, given a good, happy, pleasant life. There is an absolutely spot on moment in Jurassic world where Claire, the super a-type corporate suit says to CEO Masrani:

Claire: “We don’t have a way to measure the animals’ emotional experience.”

Masrani replies, “Sure you do. You can see in their eyes, right?”

That gets a rush out of me every time!

We handle our animals all the time, and I pick up every snake that I can. And not to brag on myself but I am pretty good at this. I am jokingly referred to several of our friends as the “Snake Whisperer.”

Just this past show, another of our friends, Eric who owns Midgard serpents had an absolutely beautiful young female Jungle Carpet python with him. I asked him if he minded if I took the lid off of her container so that Gypsy could photograph her. Eric warned me that she was bitey and that I was welcome to take the risk. Gypsy took a couple of pictures of her and then said, “Take her out so I can get better pictures.” You could see the smile creep onto Eric’s face, he knew that I was going to get nailed as this female bites him every time he handles her. So I pulled her from the container and she was flighty for a minute or so and then began to settle down.

Much to Eric’s disappointment, I held her for about twenty minutes before patiently working her back into her container and thanking him, all without getting bitten.

This is her.

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I don’t mind being bitten, but I am not afraid of it. I have known far worse pains than snake bites and I know their reasons for what they do and if they are going to bite me, then they are and there is nothing I can really do to stop them and so I just don’t concern myself with it. I am never nervous around them and it just seems to go in my favor and so perhaps I have a gift, perhaps it is just luck… That isn’t for me to say.

 

End of Part 1

On Love

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Here in the shadow of Valentine’s Day, I find myself drawn to talk about love.

I am tempted to make reference to Nietzsche’s words, “That which is done of love, takes place beyond good and evil.”

Or even to give voice to Lao Tzu, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

But in the end, words given to you by someone that you cannot know personally can often seem to have a hollower ring, even if they touch you and speak to what you feel, and so, I will tell you what I know. And you can know me, talk to me, question me, and I will give you all the knowledge that I have.

Love is not hard. Love is not painful. Love is not troublesome, or blind, or stupid and love is never done for the wrong reasons.

We bind up a million other emotions, needs, distractions, expectations and illusions with love and mistake them for the actual emotion of love, but love does not have a painful component.

It is only when it is knotted together with loss, lust or longing or confused with greed that it becomes painful to us, but love is the sun in our emotional world and even at night it shines as evidenced by its reflection on the face of the moon.

The metaphorical heart, that symbol splashed across the face of American culture each February is actually a function of our tremendously complicated brains. We feel love in our breasts but it burns in our skulls, it makes butterflies in our stomachs but hatches their cocoons in our ever beautiful minds.

Do you love? Of course you do. Do you love someone who doesn’t love you? Probably. Do you understand that love is not exclusively meant for your significant other, parents, children and siblings? Maybe. Do you allow yourself to love as much as your mind wants to? Probably not.

Why not?

To explain what I feel, I will offer this quote by one of my greatest heroes, a fictional journalist named Spider Jerusalem, created by the mad genius Warren Ellis. “I can fall in love eighty times a day just by stepping out onto the street and opening my eyes.”

Now does this mean that I am out finding eighty committed relationships a day? Or that I am taking eighty lovers, or even lasting friendships each day? No. What it means is that I can allow my heart to take people in to it for even a moment, and I can do it with as many of them deserve it.

I have loved little old ladies at the farmers’ market that giggled when I told them that they were already sweet and didn’t need that clover honey.

I have loved tiny children whose eyes pop open as wide as planets when I vanish a coin for them on the bus between little towns.

I have loved grumpy, silver haired men that tear up when they talk about things that they saw in the war, or the girl that wasn’t there when they got home.

I have fallen unabashedly in love with musicians, dancers, artists and the occasional street performer.

I have loved animals that I have worked with, owned and even ones I have encountered briefly on my travels through life.

I love a few people that I have never met. Authors, teachers, amazing people who I have been inspired and changed by.

I have even fallen in love with a few people that don’t exist. Don’t judge me, I am not in any way unhappy or ashamed of this. Or if it makes you feel better, go ahead and judge me but be aware that it doesn’t affect me or how I love.

I love my friends, and will tell them, freely, all the time, because people need to know that they are loved and more than that, that they are worthy of love.

And you are.

If you think to yourself that only one in a million people could love you, then you’re in luck because that means there are more than seven thousand people out there who will find you just perfect.

I cannot tell you how to love. No one can do that. It is as hard wired into our matrixes as anything we do. But what I can do, is offer a little bit of advice from someone who is a lover, someone who loves and doesn’t regret loving.

Our heart is resilient, powerful, and self-repairing. It will break, and it will fix itself and it is capable of a vast amount of loving, even when it is shattered into melancholy scarlet shards.

Go out, physically and metaphorically, go out and fall in love! Do it every day. Open yourself to the experience of loving someone without expectation. Love is a gift you give yourself and so does not require payment. You can love someone without the requirement of them loving you back because loving them just means that you see them, truly see them and appreciate their existence in your life.

Love violently, completely, like a thunderstorm. Let it fill the sky and light up the darkness and if it passes, it leaves growth and beauty behind it. Love doesn’t have to be permanent, it doesn’t have a term limit or a shelf life, you are permitted to love for an hour, or for a lifetime.

Be passionate about yourself and your life. Love what you do, or find something else to do! Be passionate, even in your mistakes! Throw your heart into the ring with everything you do and it will echo in your life, your work and on your face and you will be stunned by the way it changes the way people react to you.

Hug, kiss, touch and compliment people as often as you can, and you give them permission to do the same. We are all seeking permission to have connection, we are all seeking to have some level of love with the lovely creatures around us.

And lastly, love without shame or regret. Never shackle your love with those two emotions or you will cut its wings from it. You love who you love, regardless of the prevailing winds of society, regardless of who lives in the white house, who lives down your street or who serves your meals. So much stigma has become attached to gay marriage, to gender in general, but the heart sees none of that. The heart sees love and love only and if you are ashamed of who you love, then you have betrayed the most pure thing that has been given you.

The same goes for your passions. From the type of music and movies you love to the types of food you adore and the way you barely play guitar but love the act of trying, let no one ever make you feel that your love for these things is unworthy.

I tell you these things because I love. I love every day and it has made my life beautiful and to know and I mean KNOW that you are loved back, even by someone who isn’t “yours” is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Take care of each other…

Sacred

Today is Imbolc, pronounced i-MOLG, and it is one of my favorite holidays and crossroads of the year.

The celebration itself is ancient and its origins are shrouded in conjecture, mystery and the whimsy of antiquity.

What we do know is that Imbolc is celebrated today on the first of February as it is close to the halfway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox and so it considered a turning point, a beginning of the spring season and a celebration of the lengthening days.

When Christianity swept through the British Isles, this holiday, which was thought to originally honor the Goddess Brigid was appropriated, along with the Goddess herself, who then became Saint Brigid in order to more easily sway the pagans into conversion.

But that part of the story has little if any impact on me when stacked next to the feeling, spiritual weight and magic of this day.

I am fascinated by intersections, confluences, crossroads, bridges, anything that either physically or symbolically represents a transition from one place, or state of being to another, and this one is big for me because I am not, I am loathe to admit, a big fan of winter.

Imbolc for me is a festival, a rite of fire, where we light candles, lanterns, torches, bonfires, anything we can to remind the sun that it is in heat and light that we find growth. We light candles to drive back the darkness, not because we fear it, but because we are craving warmth. We ourselves shine our inner light on those that we love and those that need us in order to bring nature and the spirit of spring into ourselves and perhaps gently push the process along.

Imbolc is a time for filling our bellies with warm food, good tea and heating the air with stories, songs, kisses and laughter.

Imbolc is a reminder that because the world, the earth, nature is alive and vital, that we are to be as well.

Among my Pagan, Wiccan, non-christian friends, Imbolc has always been a time of creative rites and celebrations. We have filled snowy clearings with blue candles arranged in spirals. We have built hanging cage fires on frozen ponds. We have sculpted goddesses from snow and then burned candles in their bellies that gradually turned them to water, allowing the air to once again take the moisture up and make it into more precipitation to nourish the ground.

Today I will symbolically plant seeds, today I will cook warm, belly filling meals, today I will write poetry filled with fire and love and today I will try to help people, I will try and encourage them and I will try and remember that each day, the sun stays with us a minute or two longer.

I will burn candles in all of the rooms of the house, and some out in the wind and snow too. I will tend to my plants and talk to the snakes and lizards that share my home and tonight, we will gather around our table and offer up food and love to each other and to all those gone on before us and those following us through the shadows into the light.

But beyond all of this, there is a symbolism in that we, through all of our pain, difficulty, loss and sorrow have come to brighter times, brighter days and things will improve. Aye, indeed, there may again come dark days but there will be turning points and it is important to greet them with gratitude, enthusiasm and joy.

That is something that I think that a lot of us miss. Gratitude. We get caught in the quagmire of all of the things we don’t have and all of the struggles that we are facing and we forget about all of the things we have and we forget how blessed we our with our gifts, our loved ones and the world that we do have access to.

I am often accused of being lost in my whimsy. That all of my little rites, rituals and symbolic gestures don’t really mean anything, but I cannot disagree with that strongly enough. What are we here for if not for the creation of temporary moments of beauty, tranquility and love?

I think it is our greatest purpose to chain together multiple acts of magic, multiple islands of joy in the daily rigmarole, make, through our efforts, small, or huge, sanctuaries for the spirit where for a minute, a day or a year, a tired being can just breathe, can inhale clean air, find a moment of peace and remember to smile.

While looking through a book in Half-price books the other day I saw a photograph that stopped me in my tracks. It was a beautiful stone Buddha, slightly weathered, a small amount of moss beginning to color its shoulders. The Buddha was photographed in profile. It was seated on a stone in the middle of a black pool of water, and the pool itself was surrounded by beautiful, natural rounded stones. All of this was in a clearing in a pine forest and there was a fresh fall of snow on the ground. The image was everything about beauty, peace and tranquility. It was one of those islands I spoke of above.

I have been unable to find out who owns that Buddha or the place it is residing but I will, and I will because I want to personally thank them for the thing that they created, to tell them that I am grateful for the beauty that they have inserted into the world.

What are you grateful for? Who are you thankful for? Do they know it? Today, on this ancient holiday, take a moment, here at the crossroads to acknowledge to yourself and to those people that you appreciate them.

I am burning candles and sitting at my keyboard this morning, because I appreciate you and I want to offer you a couple of moments of beauty and distraction.

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I hope it helps…

Blessed Imbolc and take care of each other…