Friday, May 27, 2011

Dogs Driving Cars

One day, a few years ago, my (now-ex) boyfriend Oz and I decided to go to Talkeetna. Now, if you haven't been there, Talkeetna is a fascinating little town. I do mean little; you can walk from one end of it to the other in about 10 minutes. But Talkeetna has an interesting and varied culture, despite its small size. It's the jumping-off point for those who want to climb The Mountain (Denali, which up here is often referred to as simply The Mountain, capitals implied). As a result of that, there is a summertime culture of outdoor enthusiasts, guides and pilots and various seasonal businesses that spring up in  - well, the springtime, and persist all summer. Naturally, the tourist activities go up significantly as well: flightseeing, riverboating, fishing, what have you.

Still, despite all that human traffic, there is little in the way of car traffic, and little need for it, given the size of the town. Cars drive in and park at a convenient little parking area and then you get out and walk. You can have a nice browse around the shops, eat at one of the tasty little eateries, walk to the Talkeetna River before it dumps into the Susitna or cross the bridge and explore the opposite bank. At any rate, the main spur enters town and then takes a left-hand turn, after which it dead-ends a few hundred feet later. At the bend in the "L" is the parking area where nearly everyone gets out and walks.

The town has a decidedly counter-culture feel to it, with a wide variety of people - tough old Alaskans, hard-core mountaineers, pilots of many a stripe (professional, recreational, bush), tourists of all descriptions both from Alaska and Outside, seasonal workers, State wilderness employees, local Talkeetnans (is that a word?) - the variety is astonishing for such a small town. I don't know if it's this variety of disparate folks, or if it's some special magic of the town itself, but Talkeetna is quirky, unusual, offbeat and deeply charming in a way that takes me off guard. The most bizarre and unusual combinations seem somehow just right, when viewed from the perspective of the town's particular point of view.

I can't recall on this given day if we'd flown up and walked into town from the Talkeetna airport, or if we'd driven. In either case, we were wandering through the shops, stopping for lunch (excellent pizza), chit-chatting with various people beknownst and unbeknownst to us. I was doing some early Christmas shopping of the niece-and-nephew variety, and Oz was either browsing along with me or waiting patiently outside for me to finish my scouting.

We'd been all the way down to the end of the L and back on our wanderings, and I was checking two last shops for a raven-shaped hand-puppet. My targets were on the incoming Talkeetna Spur, right hand side of the road. A small two-door hatchback type of car pulled over on the far left shoulder, the driver jumping out to talk to a friend she'd spotted walking alongside the road. There was a sort of general squealing of delight and mutual hugging. It really wasn't a traffic hazard, there being so little traffic, even though she'd parked on the wrong side of the street and had left her car idling with its driver's-side door wide open. I glanced over at the sound of happy reunions, smiling a little, the way you do when you see people you don't even know being all bubbly and excited.

What made me smile even more was that I noticed that there was the most adorable Jack Russell in the front seat of the car. He had semi-pricked ears and a wiry, scruffily-bearded muzzle, and his little tail was straight in the air, wagging madly. He craned his little neck to look out the windows, but kept to the vehicle.

Good little dog, I thought. I would never trust MY dogs to stay in the car with me standing 15 feet away, door wide open, and the inducements of a warm summer day and lots of people all strolling back and forth, some carrying (and dropping, perforce) food of various descriptions. My dogs would probably all leap out to romp around my  feet, or mug toddlers for their ice cream cones.

But this little JRT did neither, evidently taking his car-guarding duties seriously. Spying a large black Labrador ambling along the L on a leash - crossing impudently in front of the car, without so much as a by-your-leave - the Jack Russell immediately launched a challenge at the intruder. Barking furiously, he leaped to his feet, putting his forepaws on the dash for a better view and hopping up and down on his hind legs, making abortive attempts to scrabble up the curved shoulder of the dashboard. For some reason this tightened my focus on the dog. Suddenly I realized he was taller than before, and a microsecond later I saw why. He'd planted his hind feet on the automatic's on-floor gearshift.

"Um -" I said, to no one in particular. Oz looked at me. I started to point across the road, just about the same moment that the Jack's bouncy little barks produced the results that evidently my subconscious mind was anticipating. He shoved off hard with his hind feet, attempting to launch himself up onto the dash - but succeeding instead in shoving the gearshift into "drive".

It was one of those moments where you can see the impending events unfolding as if in slow motion in your mind, mere fractions of a second before they occur in real life - but you are powerless to stop them, by virtue of distance. The car began to roll forward at a stately pace. The driver, caught up in the excitement of her friends, did not, of course, hear the tires moving over the sandy verge of the road. The wide open door bumped gently against a telephone pole and slammed shut.

The Jack Russell, thrilled to be approaching his quarry, barked excitedly on.

"HEY!" I said, loudly, trying to attract attention as the car proceeded, slowly gathering speed. (I'll grant you this wasn't the most articulate thing I might have said, but somehow screaming "Dog driving car! Dog driving car!" didn't seem quite right, either.) One part of my mind is observing this all with some bemusement; it seems peculiarly fitting, in a way. It's Talkeetna. Of course there is a dog driving a car down the street. Why not?

Several strapping young men stood in the middle of the road at the L-turn, mock-punching and shoulder-bumping each other animatedly in an exuberance of testosterone and youth. One of them either heard my exclamation or noticed that the car, proceeding at a regal pace, was being piloted by none other than a small white terrier, yapping with glee as he bore slowly but inexorably down on his sworn enemy the Labrador, now passing from starboard to port across his bows. The young man leaped into action, diving at the front of the car, bracing his hands against the hood and digging in with his considerable thigh muscles to slow the car's progress. Two of his buddies and at least one random passer-by threw themselves into the fray as well, bracing their brawny chests against the hood and their feet against the silty hard-pack of the road, all the while being pushed slowly back cross it like the Spartans at Thermopylae - unfortunately without benefit of either leather loincloths or Gerry Butler.

Meanwhile, the JRT, having seen his nemesis escaping off his port bow, had moved so that he was standing behind the steering wheel. His efforts to climb the wheel for a better view levered down against the spokes of the steering wheel (whatever those are called), swinging the car into a wide left-handed arc. The Jack Russel - no doubt delighted with this turn of events, as he was now following his prey through the L of the road - celebrated by making several bank-and-turn leaps off the steering wheel. Muffled by the closed window, he none the less sounded completely demented with elation at his success.

Meanwhile, the now five young men pitting their strength against the car's forward momentum are being pushed inexorably back, their cross-trainers skidding against the road. The car is slowing, but not completely stopped, and people are towing their children briskly out of its path. The driver of the car, her attention brought at last to this scene, gives a shriek. The left front of the car is now clear of the roadside obstructions, however, and one of the car-matadors dives toward the door, yanking it open, deftly inserting himself behind the wheel and stepping hard on the brake. He manages this maneuver without allowing the JRT to escape, puts the car in "park" and shuts down the ignition.

There is general applause for the car-matadors (who aw-shucks it and shove each other around a little in bashful fashion, fugitive grins on their faces.) The driver rescues and scolds her JRT. And the Labrador escapes into the crowd, foiling the JRT's attempt at world domination via automotive mastery.

Well, after that, of course, anything else would be anticlimactic, so that pretty well put paid to my shopping for the day. I never did find the raven hand-puppet I was looking for, but on the whole, in terms of entertainment, I have to say it was a good day. I mean, how often do you get to see a Jack Russell terrier driving a hatchback down the street and steering it around a turn? For sheer offbeat charm, it's hard to improve on that.

Well... maybe if you added Gerry Butler in a leather loincloth...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trying New Things

I'm a great believer in trying new things. For one thing, one of my great fears is the idea of losing my mental faculties. This is in part because lives depend on my brain being in good working order; my patients, if no one else, need me to be firing on all cylinders. But it's partly because so much of my enjoyment of life depends on my way of thinking about it. So I'm all for anything that keeps my brain flexible. To that end I take up new projects every so often. I took a painting class last summer (watercolor, and produced a reasonable likeness of my dog Finn) and took up Swedish and Norwegian - in part because they're free on LiveMocha. (Who knew that learning to roll my R's would turn out to be so useful?) I took them up together because they're similar languages, and I figured it would be just as easy to learn them together as separately, but I soon discovered a pitfall: Occasionally, when I mean to say the Swedish word, I unexpectedly veer off and go all Norwegian for a second - and perhaps vice versa, but since one of the docs in the clinic speaks Swedish and none of them speak Norwegian, I only get caught when I mess up the Svenska portion of the program.

Important Program Note: Before you all start sending me missives in Swedish (or Norwegian, for that matter), please bear in mind that when I got sick I lost all energy of every description and have done nothing - and here I mean literally NOTHING - with either language since. So naturally I've forgotten everything except "Jag ar kort" and stuff like that. Hardly the raw materials for a scintillating conversation, since stating that I'm short - well, 5'4" - is pointing out the painfully obvious and leaves little room for sensible replies.)

I've heard that one of the best ways of keeping the brain flexible and active is to take up a new language. I figured that it might not be such a bad idea to brush up the old ones, too, so in the interests of keeping the old noggin (and I do mean OLD noggin, since I'm so ancient I am practically fossilized) in good working order, I decided to brush up on my French and Spanish. In pursuit of this, I had an excellent idea (which I shamelessly stole from S at the farm, who I believe may have gotten it from the Penzeys catalogue): To wit, read Harry Potter (or some other familiar story, preferably one geared toward simpler vocabulary) in a foreign language. I soon discovered, however, that my high school French and Spanish classes were woefully lacking, since words like "owl" and "cauldron" and "wand" were for some inexplicable reason not included in the vocabulary. I know! Amazing!

However, evidently there still is not enough sleep in the world for me. The up-side of this is: Mmm, sleep! The down-side is: Falling asleep randomly in the middle of Things That Should Be Quite Interesting, But Somehow Are Not Enough To Keep Me Awake. Therefore, I must put my linguistic ambitions on hold until such time as there IS enough sleep in the world for me, which by my calculations will be sometime after 2017.

For that reason I've been trying OTHER new things, things which do not require much concentration. For instance, this weekend I took Finn to meet a bunch of bitches.

Now here I should point out that these are the "girl-dog" sort of bitch, and none of them is in fact very bitchy. They belong to my friend LK and are actually a rather charming gang. However, LK (who has both a generous heart and a sense of adventure) requested the pleasure of Finn's company for my vacation, and (in order to ensure a smooth transition) invited Finn and I over for a play date ahead of time. Finn was introduced one at a time to his new harem of girlfriends. One of them charmed him immediately by throwing herself in complete abandon onto her back, inviting him to inspect her tummy. Another charmed him by being willing to run and play wildly with him. His other girlfriends are a little more demure, but I think he'll succumb to their charms in the long run - or vice versa.

Meanwhile, Finn - who likes men - was delighted to be going to a guy hangout. Particularly one with many interesting animals and things to sniff and pee on. Mind you, he was perfectly happy to follow LK to the kitchen (there to help with meal preparation). LK asked me if there's anything Finn shouldn't have.

"Well, he's been known to eat plushy toys now and again," I said. We turn to look at Finn, who has, as usual, located every toy in the house by means of some mysterious Border collie radar and has been pestering us to throw them for him. At the moment we turn to look at him, he has a stuffed rabbit between his front feet. He is industriously chewing the stuffed carrot off of it and manages to gulp it down before I can collar him and steal his prize.

"Okay," LK says, with the air of someone crossing an item off a list. "No stuffed toys."
"That might be best," I agree, glaring at Finn (who gives me a happy grin. He loves carrots.)

Meanwhile, it has become time for lunch. LK has made us two different kinds of chili from Dall sheep. It's good. And here what I really mean is it's goooooood. It's tender and tasty and blends beautifully with the spices. This leaves me with (I think) only two species of game mammals native to Alaska that I've not tried: mountain goat and musk ox. So now it's my turn to tick something off my list. Dall sheep: Tried it, loved it, would try it again any time.

We sit in the Man Cave part of the house (which is populated with animal mounts of various descriptions, since LK and her husband are both hunters and, in fact, run a hunting camp in the summer for a varied clientele), and which has some beautiful woodwork in it. It's currently under construction, but there's a comfy couch and some coffee-table-height tables to eat off of, and the door is open to the sunny deck. The dogs race back and forth, in and out the door. We mostly keep the dogs from begging and trying to lick things off the table.

LK, bless her, sends me home with leftover chili (both kinds) and Finn with a leftover garlic biscuit (which he cleverly laid claim to by means of licking the side of it.) At that point I had to digress and tell a story about having once gone to a housewarming potluck at Meryl's place. Someone had brought a loaf of homemade bread which had thoughtfully been sliced. The end slice was leaning temptingly toward the edge of the plate. Too well-behaved to actually steal off the table, Meryl's dog Dancer none the less succumbed to temptation sufficiently to lick the end piece - just once, mind you, before she restrained her gluttonous instincts.

"Meryl," I said, "Dancer just licked the bread."
"That's okay," Meryl said. "We're all dog people here."

My gut reaction to which was: You know, I'd eat something MY dog licked, but I wouldn't eat something SOMEONE ELSE'S dog licked. After which mental commentary I started laughing at myself, because really: WTH? Am I insane, or just stupid?

Personally, since this whole thing is about me being afraid my brain will turn to paper mache` the instant I turn 50, I'm going with "insane".

So there I am, trundling home with two (TWO!) tubs of Dall chili, one slightly-used garlic biscuit, and a tired (but very happy) Border collie. I motor on back to the clinic to release my emergency surgery (who has cooperatively woken up and stopped bleeding from its bitten and formerly-lacerated-but-now-sutured ear). Then I just have time to make dinner at the farm, where we have lamb (yum) roasted in home-made Worcestershire sauce, salad, rice and Cape Cods made with home-made highbush cranberry juice and cranberry vodka.

Ahhh. I like trying new stuff! New stuff is very very tasty.

At this time, Raven is commandeered to come live at the farm and entertain S&R's Border collie, Tessla, while I am on vacation. I see that I have returned to the stage of life where my dogs are more popular than I am, and my job is to drive them places so that people can socialize with them. I really can't mind this, actually; I think anyone who esteems my dogs has excellent taste, so I'm content to play chauffeur and second fiddle.

So now I'm sitting here thinking about doing more new stuff and eating leftover Dall chili (which is, if anything, even tastier after a night in the frige). I am all happy because I made my brain try some new things and that clearly must mean I've staved off senility for at least another week. Maybe longer, given the antioxidant content of highbush cranberries (greater even than blueberries).

And have I mentioned...? Dall chili: Goooooood.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Great Snake Escape

So, while I'm thinking about snakes...

I grew up in the same town as I went to vet school in, and my step-dad was a professor at the University. Some of his research involved him doing fieldwork in the summers, in the caves and deserts of the southwestern U.S and in Mexico. Sometimes he (plus or minus a sibling or my mother, who would sometimes accompany him) would return with the unexpected: Handwoven woolen blankets form Mexico, beads and T-shirts from Oaxaca, a pillowcase full of bats brought back to establish a research colony. The bats were my favorite - all except the time when I opened the refrigerator to discover that several of them were wandering around loose inside. But that's another story.

One of the things my step-dad brought back from the field was a Sonoran bull snake. She was a beautiful patterned creamy gold and chocolate, spotted along her back and sides. Less wedge-shaped of head than a rattler, she could none the less, when threatened, flatten her head til it looked remarkably like that of a pit viper. Combined with a rattling hiss, an S-shaped striking posture and the rapid vibration of her tail, she could strengthen her rattler impersonation impressively - and did, until she became used to us. She was around three or so feet long when she first came to us. I'm not sure why my step-dad decided to bring her back, but she arrived cozily tucked up in a pillowcase knotted shut to keep her in. We were not allowed to handle her at first, in order not to stress her too much. My step-dad told us she wasn't a dangerous species - she could certainly strike and bite, if pressed, but had no venom - but she was to be allowed time to adjust before we handled her. A subgroup of the gopher snakes, she was of a robust breed, a constrictor that in the wild subsisted on mice, rats, gophers and other small rodents - although birds and eggs might also be eaten. The observation that bull snakes and rattlers rarely live in close proximity gave rise to the speculation that they might also eat baby rattlesnakes for breakfast (and let me tell yuo, this is not a job for wimps.) However, whether or not that is true, it is (apparently) true that where bullsnakes prosper, rattlers are rare.

We set her up in a large aquarium with a heat lamp, some rocks and coarse sand for landscaping, and a water dish made from the deep lid of a canning jar (which she frequently knocked over as she moved from basking spot to resting spot.) I will say she seemed to accept this change in circumstance with a minimum of fuss, being by and large a placid, easy-going sort of snake. If you put your hand into the cage to stroke her, she might merely flick her forked tongue at you, or she might lift her head and begin to twine about your arm. Certainly if you took her out, she'd wrap herself around you in a leisurely sort of fashion, looping around your arm or slipping her head between the buttons of your shirt to try to wrap about your waist. It's hard to say if she enjoyed being stroked along the sinuous line of her body, but she at least seemed to like it; she didn't shy from it, at any rate, and sometimes appeared to seek it by bringing her head near someone's hand. But perhaps she was just tasting our scents with her quick black tongue.

She was pleasant to touch, at any rate. Her scales were sleek and smooth as lacquered wood, and the incised overlapping pattern of them had a pleasing texture under our fingertips. She had a leisurely way of crawling along one's arm, and her muscular embrace was surprisingly satisfying in some visceral way. I find that one hard to explain, but it falls into the same category as the pleasure of feeling the strong, curved muscle along the crest of a horse or the rounded weight of my Finn-dog's thigh pressed against my toes when he lays at my bare feet. There's a pleasure in feeling the thoughtless vitality of other creatures, expressed even in stillness. Perhaps it reminds us of our own energies, rooted in every microscopic cell, inescapable no matter how banked they may be under the layers of civilization. We are, at the core of it, animals. All the sophistication in the world cannot erase the knowledge, echoing in our bones, that however unlike us they may be, these creatures are our brothers.

And so it was - for me, at least - with Missnake. As scaleless and warmblooded and hair-bearing as I am, I felt some kinship with her, and marvelled at her differences even as I felt our similarities. Hers was not the same sort of interaction as you'd get with a dog or a cat, but it had its own distinct pleasures none the less. Sometimes we took her for "walks" inside the house. It wasn't really a walk, since snakes have no legs (I know! Amazing!), but we'd hold onto the end of her tail and let her crawl around exploring the floors with us scooting along in her wake, bent double to let her use as much of her body as possible, gripping only the last inches of her tail. She was surprisingly fast on a level surface, so holding onto her tail was a necessity, lest she escape and find her way into some heating duct from which she could not be rescued.

She was fed a diet consisting mainly of mice. Since she wasn't doing her own hunting and was fed regularly, it wasn't that long before Missnake (a thoroughly unsuitable name, I thought, but it wasn't up to me) was approaching 5 feet in length. About the time she passed the 4.5 foot mark she became noticeably stronger, presumably in consequence of both increased girth and the increased length to leverage it. We'd wake up in the morning to find that the lid of her aquarium - which was constructed fairly heavily of pine firring strips and hardware cloth - had been shifted in the night.

My room was on the same floor as hers, very near where her aquarium rested, so often enough it was me who woke in the morning to discover that she'd shifted the lid sometime in the night. We tried weighting it with various items - a rock, a brick, a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica -but Missnake (shudder, that name) was both long enough and strong enough now that the inevitable happened. One night she managed to push aside the lid of her cage, volume XIV (W through Z) of the Encyclopedia Britannica notwithstanding. I woke up to see the lid askew and Missnake absent and unaccounted for.

Naturally I alerted the troops (parents and assorted siblings) and we searched the house. The house being three stories and 19 rooms, not counting closets, crawl space, attic, garage and various storage bins and cubbies, built-in and otherwise), this took some time - but we were, in the event, unsuccessful. We found not hide nor hair - nor scale nor scute - of her.

There was of course the possibility that she'd made it out of the house and gone walkabout (crawlabout? Slitherabout?) out in the countryside of Northern Colorado all on her lonesome. I'd have been sad about that; she was a nice snake, the name notwithstanding (and that was hardly her fault, after all), and I would have worried about her. (I know this is foolish - she came from the wild in the first place, and managed fine without us - but you know how it is. You take care of something, pet it and admire it, stroke its smooth lacquered scales and feel its sinuous muscularity hugging your arm, you get attached.)

On the other hand, the bull snake is the natural enemy of the rattler, so maybe if she'd escaped she might have saved me a certain amount of near-cardiac arrest later in life.

Still and all, we wanted to find her, so Steps Were In Order. My mother, who I will point out is no dummy, had a little think on the subject. First order of business, she figured, was to determine whether or not Missnake was still in the house. Accordingly she set up a handy Snake Motion Detection scheme. Bear in mind that this was back in the 1970's (Yes! I AM so old I'm almost mummified, why do you ask?) and the idea of using nanny cams and so on was not yet even a twinkle in some engineer's eyes. We were low-tech in those days - but creative, for all that, and my mom (having had to devise means of surviving the chaos of having more or less accidentally produced a large number of offspring possessed of varying amounts of abundant and unrestrained energy, not to mention a certain slant for the nefarious -and here I'm not mentioning any names, but I'm looking at you, MaskedMan!)... where was I? Oh, yes. My mom, as a matter of self-preservation, had had plenty of practice in the use of her creative talents. Being a logical sort, she figured that (being as how she was a snake and all) Missnake could not move from one room to the next without dragging her length along the floor. Hence the Snake Detection System: a line of flour sprinkled across the threshold of every room in the house. In the morning, every flour line was inspected for telltale drag marks. Every evening, it was repaired from the scuffs and disturbances of having five children, a dog and a cat traipsing about the house.

It was soon apparent, from a smear of flour between the family room and the utility room, that Missnake was indeed still in the house. Based on the direction of flour drag, the utility room -with its built-in cubbies and laundry bins and boot box and closet - was thoroughly inspected, without good result. Flashlights were shined into and under every likely and unlikely spot, but no luck: Missnake seemed to have been taking lessons from Mata Harri, and was nowhere to be found.

This state of affairs continued for several days. Then, at last, a break in the case: My mother, alone at home after the rest of the inmates were off variously at school or work, happened into the utility room, intent on doing some laundry, and chanced to look at the washing machine just in time to see the end of Missnake's tail disappearing under the edge.

Too late to grab her, my mom got down on the floor and pressed her eye to the space under the machine, just in time to see the shadow of the long, muscular body working its way up along the barrel of the washer. Concluding that Missnake had found a handy perch up near the top of the barrel, Mom got to her feet and inspected the top of the washer. Clearly the solution was to take the top off the washing machine, but how?

Well, the obvious first move was to call Sears (it was a Kenmore washer) and talk to their service department. Accordingly, Mom dialed them up and was soon on the line with one of the service technicians.

"Hi. I have a Kenmore washing machine," my mom began, relaying the make and model to the tech. "I need to know how to take the top off of it."

There is a pause. "Why do you want to know, lady?" asks the technician (or words to that effect, presumably wondering what kind of crackpot he has on the phone. Someone who wants to use their machine for making illegal hooch, perhaps? Or maybe someone newly arrived from living in a cave, who doesn't understand how to operate a washing machine? Or perhaps some foolish do-it-yourselfer, who is unaware that Sears would happily send someone to the house to service the machine?)

"Because our five-foot-long bull snake just went up inside the machine and is currently wrapped around the barrel, and I'd like to get her out," my mom says, with some asperity.

"Oh," says the technician, his demeanor shifting abruptly away from suspicious and skeptical and towards direct and businesslike. "Well, you'll need a Phillip's head screwdriver. The first thing you'll want to do..." and he proceeded to give clear instructions in an orderly fashion.

Strangely, he did not offer to drive right out, take the machine apart and extract the snake himself. I can't think why not.

However, my mom was more than equal to this task, and we all arrived home from school that day to see Missnake resting comfortably under her heat lamp, with four volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica and a cinder block stacked atop the lid of her aquarium. Mom regaled us with her adventures of the day, we all pressed our grubby little noses to the glass of the aquarium and welcomed Missnake back (offering her a celebratory mouse as a welcome home present), and harmony reigned. Until I had a thought.

"But what if she gets loose again?" I said.

"Don't worry. Your step-dad is going to make a better lid for the aquarium this weekend. Aren't you, dear?" she said, with emphasis. My step-dad agreed that yes, indeed, he would absolutely love to do that, giving the impression that he had in fact been longing for such an opportunity and was only too thrilled to be provided with an excuse to engineer something of the sort.

I don't recall exactly what modifications were made, but I do recall that the lid to the aquarium was a lot bulkier after that.

That was Missnake's last Walkabout in the house. After a couple of years, when she was as large and robust a snake as a steady diet of mice could make her, my step-dad was again going back to her neck of the woods for another field season. It was decided that it was time for Missnake's tenure in our household to come to an end. Her aquarium was getting to be too small to accomodate her powerful length, and she seemed increasingly interested in escaping to go exploring. Accordingly, she was tenderly cuddled up again and carefully transported back to the desert of the southwest, where she was returned to her old stomping (or slithering) grounds, robust and healthy and ready to terrorize the diamondbacks of Arizona.

I imagine she's long gone to dust, but I remember her fondly. I was never afraid of snakes, but she taught me to appreciate them in more immediate and personal terms, and for that I thank her even now. She left behind her other lessons, as well: how to walk a snake, build a snake detection system, and get the top off a Kenmore washing machine, amongst them. Not to mention that if you should wish to contain a determined reptile, it will take at least four volumes of the Encylopedia Britannica to do so.

They do say knowledge is power, and I guess that's proof, of a sort. But it might also be proof that the stubborn vitality of life will continue to rise up when least expected and push aside any number of layers of knowledge and sophistication to have its way. There's a certain loveliness to that, a reassurance that settles in the pit of my being, an anchor against the more disheartening tides of the modern world. No matter what we do, life will have its way - and keep on having its way, no matter how we try to keep a lid on it.

Not a bad legacy for one little snake.