Remembering Garren Evans (April 15, 1971 - August 9, 2008), who helped create EcoSnake.com, a true friend of nature and amphibians and reptiles
The Silent Secret of Snakes
by Frank Lundburg
Boise, Idaho, USA
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “Why do you like snakes”? I have come to realize my answer always will be incomplete. The following is an attempt to answer the question of why I like snakes:
What is it, this fascination with snakes, this respect, we who love them, have for these creatures hated and feared by so many people?
It is a curious mixture of science and romanticism, a quest for history, a search for culture, and a love of all things living, which cause us to seek understanding of these animals. Just as the time of snakes encompasses the time of animals on earth, our fascination with snakes encompasses our experiences and search for knowledge.
Snakes invite us to learn about their ways. We care for snakes for the simple reason they are snakes, and their behavior and beauty challenge us. Just as we think we are beginning to understand them, snakes do something we don’t understand, and over and over again, we are appalled at the lack of knowledge About them. Our lives become a continual quest for information. We go to libraries, we buy books, we look at pictures, we pick our way through swamps, deserts and forests, to learn about these animals. Discovering a snake in its own unique environment sends a surge of excitement through us, and we are honored, for nature has allowed us to become privy to some special secret information.
We know snakes should be left in their natural habitats, and yet when we come across a snake, quiet, hidden, and living its life in its own place, our desire to keep it is strong — not because we want another “pet” or “specimen,” but because the snake may help us to understand a little more about how it lives. That understanding may help to protect, or even save, an individual snake’s life, and, eventually, maybe even a species. And, let’s be honest, we want to be closer to these beautiful and mysterious animals.
Conscientious students of herpetology, however, look with horror at the destructive taking of snakes from the wild for the skin or pet trades. We look with horror and revulsion at the way people treat and trade these fragile creatures who ask only to be left alone. We make every effort to return wild caught snakes to their home ranges. We marvel as the snakes slither, silently, alone, into the adventures of their own lives.
Perhaps it is a respect for aloneness and individuality which contributes to our love and fascination with snakes. Perhaps it is the wonderful discovery that these animals in no way resemble the perceptions many people have of them. They are, in fact, shy animals, whose benefits to mankind are great. Our fascination is piqued by this discovery — the awareness of this silent secret of snakes — and we are moved to share their world.
Sharing in the he world of snakes demands acceptance of a profound responsibility. That is the responsibility we have for preserving our world and replenishing its resources, for understanding and maintaining the land, air, water, and ways of all living creatures.
Snakes have other secrets. Through forcing us to see them as they are, they help us to understand ourselves as we are. The first question our friends ask when they discover we like and keep snakes is, “But does it respond to you? Does it know you? Does it show affection for you”?
How can we be so egocentric as to rank the worth of other creatures by the degree of affection they show our species. My answer to my friends’ question is, “No, not in the sense we think of ‘knowing’ or ‘caring.’” Snakes respond in their own ways, and the more we observe how they behave, the more we understand our own lives. It is precisely this quality of behavior, not like a human, but instead like a snake, that causes us to admire snakes. Snakes force us out of our egocentric existences into the world of all living things — We appreciate snakes because they are themselves, and because they invite us to look beyond our narrow lives, in order to understand their lives. They make us scientists. They make us scientists, however, in a very special way. They make us scientists with the compassionate eyes of objective sensitivity to the relationship of all living things.
Snakes link us with the past. They have been on the earth more than 160 million years. Pythons give us perspective. Though natural predators, snakes’ aggression is directed toward survival — killing to eat, and eating only when hungry, and, at the last resort, defending themselves. They enhance their environment rather than diminish it. Can snakes help the world survive? Can snakes help us find peace?
Snakes challenge us, enhance us, and sadden us, for in our understanding of the terrible beauty and interdependence of all life, we realize our challenge is not just to protect snakes, but to insure the survival of life on the planet. There is a sadness in realizing everything must change. In the enormity of our challenge we can take a lesson from snakes who have survived throughout the milennia.
We have a profound moral responsibility of not only understanding our reptilian friends, but also of educating others about their ways. The snake is close to the earth. It has survived not by trying to restructure nature, but by being part of nature. We, who have taken a different path, can learn from the the snake. While man cannot, nor is it his province to do so, turn back the work of his centuries, man can complement the natural order of the earth.
Whether through religion, myth, science, historiography, or just simply marveling about the stars and universe, or, all those things which still await our discovery, our worth is judged by how we regard ourselves and our fellow creatures, and how we respect the beauty of all life on our planet.
The silent secret of snakes, which has been part of our earth for over one hundred sixty million years tells us to take care of our needs as do they — taking only what we need from the earth, and replenishing the world by allowing it the dignity of being itself.
The silent secret of snakes reminds us to be patient, to strike in defense only when all else fails, and to understand the worth of all living things. The silent secret of snakes tells us that while love remains incomprehensible, life is beautiful, and as our friends, the snakes, teach us by instinct, an eternal challenge.
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