I went walking a couple weeks ago, right after my roommate had arrived back on campus and I had begun to feel cooped up, unable to pace back and forth in the room like I had for the entirety of January. As I rolled through the walkway leading from Founder’s to the road, I realized how often I had taken this path and decided to make my first trip out to the woods. I felt sort of awkward on my way there, suffering from my ever-present feeling that I’m somewhere I don’t really belong or I’m not supposed to be.
The whole time I walked, my somewhat instinctual and somewhat personal fear of snakes was close by. It probably would’ve made more sense if it were my fear of spiders instead, but that seemed further away despite the fact that the forest was likely crawling with them. Snakes have always followed me, often in the form of recurring dreams. I’ve had several dreams where I was bitten by a snake, always either in the right hand or in the face. I thought about my snake dreams as I wandered through the woods, my boots crunching the grass and the blonde-leaved trees standing still as they watched me walk by. I passed little mounds of moss and fungi, green and cream islands in the ocean of fallen leaves. A wide tree toppled over, leaving a crater of red soil in its wake. Shortly after the snake dreams, I always experienced a change in my life, often in the form of loss. I had one before losing a friend, one before changing schools. One heralded the death of my grandfather, who died of liver cancer when I was ten years old.
The snakes have appeared as omens in my real life as well. When I was young, my mother would often take my younger brother and I to roadside parks or soccer fields to play. It didn’t cost much money, and it seemed a sort of adventure back then, getting to see parks all over our little corner of the state. One day, we had gone to a little playground with the usual swing/jungle gym/slide setup. My brother ran out of the car ahead of myself and my mother towards a ramp that led up to the playset.
Under the ramp, I saw a large red snake with what looked like a spade-shaped head. Alarm bells rang out and I called out to my brother who was running towards it with wild abandon. Years later, I still tell the story sometimes, much to my brother’s chagrin. He is offended that I even jokingly insinuate that I saved his life in some way. “There’s no copperheads in Michigan,” he’d say with a sour look on his face. “Just some garden snake. You made a big deal out of nothing.”
And perhaps the story is misleading the way I tell it, because I never mention the dreams. I never let slip that maybe my fear was less for my brother’s safety than it was concerned with my own fear of change.