A couple of days ago I was working late in my office building, which sits in corporate park in suburban St. Louis. It’s not exactly a haven for wildlife, though in spring the Canadian geese come through and build nests in the grassy spots near the windows. In autumn, though, there is typically nothing but us human animals occupying the space. But when I opened the door to the parking lot, I was surprised to find a snake right beside my feet on the concrete steps.
It was a garter snake of the type my brother used to have when we were younger, nothing dangerous. It skittered away from me a bit and tried to blend in with the leaves, and I stood quietly so as not to frighten it. After a moment, I said hello to it and asked what in the world it was doing there. (This is the part of the story the Photographer found incredible: “You TALKED to it? You’re such a city girl.”) I worried that anyone else who came upon it might feel threatened and kill it, and I did not want that to happen. I thought perhaps I could move it, but truly, it seemed to want to be left alone. It was completely still, except for its tongue, which flicked out a few times, tasting the air, trying to determine if I had left yet. “Be careful,” I whispered. “Don’t get hurt.” And then I left it alone.
I’ve looked for the snake again each day as I walk in that same door, and each night as I leave. I haven’t seen it. I haven’t heard that anyone else has encountered a snake there. I hope it’s safe. Two days later, the snake is still talking to me. When I ask it, what are you doing here, perhaps it says, what are YOU doing here? Perhaps I don’t belong in a corporate office park any more than it does, and perhaps it is just as dangerous for me to be there. Perhaps I am just as much at risk of showing my true self to the wrong person, who may find that threatening and lash out in some way. Perhaps it will be someone who finds me talking to a snake in the parking lot, and thinks we are both frightening, the snake and me.