I spent a quiet morning with this lovely babe at the top of a small peak. This is the Common Eastern Garter Snake, less common to me because it prefers a slightly drier environment. I tend to see more of the Eastern Ribbon Snake, another garter that hangs around marshes and bogs. I’m fortunate to live in an area with so much wetland. Much of North America is dry, and the eastern wetlands have mostly been drained for farmland or suburban development. Most animals like to hang out in the swampy places.
This garter was on a mountaintop. The presence of water and mountains makes the Adirondacks special. Though this is a common snake – perhaps the commonest of all – it’s not the one I usually see, so the significance of this sighting is a portent of something a little different, at least for me.
Snakes almost universally are symbols of change. Since they shed their outer skin as they grow, they are believed to have many incarnations in their time on earth. A few years back, I kept seeing lots and lots of snakes whenever I walked outdoors, mostly these little Ribbon Snakes. I took those encounters to mean that a BIG change was coming in my life and I tried to imagine what it would be. I decided that my writing was finally going to get the recognition and widespread acclaim that it deserves, as I could not imagine a more life-altering trajectory. Money…fame…acclaim…justification for past decisions…a sense of fulfilling a life’s purpose…
Turns out, I hit menopause. Life changing, certainly. Not the fun exciting new life I had hoped for. Mostly life stayed the same, except that I was dealing with that crone-entry crap. I had (and still have) a hard menopause, and there’s no preparation for that amount of heat. Dealing with fertility is hard; letting go of it is harder. I began thinking that my life was never going to change for the better. This was, of course, hogwash. There are many good things in my life, including wonderful things that have come in the past few years, many of them the result of my own efforts. But I have been frustrated in a few areas that mean a great deal to me, creating dissatisfaction.
Lately I’ve started seeing snakes again. Not so many as the time before, but a few. My reaction, naturally, has been “Oh dear, what now?!” Yet take a look at the environment of this particular snake: she is winding through a Wild Strawberry plant. In Divining with Animal Guides, I discuss the importance of interpreting a sign in terms of context: the context of your life, certainly, but also the physical environment in which the sign appears. A Wild Strawberry is sweet and tangy; something to be savored. This sighting occurs during wteehiimiiwi-niipaahum, the Strawberry Moon, making the strawberries around the snake even more significant. And this is on the mountaintop, so there is something significant about the mountain itself. The name is Sawyer Mountain – it has the word “saw,” as in seeing, and “yer,” which is another word for you. Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been seen (or will be seen) by someone who can help my career? Or maybe there’s a love interest in my immediate future, taking the sexual connotation of the snake. Fruit and snakes evokes images of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge. I could see this snake as a warning of temptation and downfall, but I rejected that interpretation simply because it didn’t feel right. A strawberry is not an apple (it’s sexier), and knowledge isn’t always a source of grief.
As the snake slid away, I plucked the berry, plopped it in my mouth, and, as the sweet juices lingered on my tongue, I said, “May the changes coming to me be sweet.” This is an example of how a priestess moves beyond noticing the signs in her life to directing life itself. My third (and probably final) book on animal magic will focus on spellcasting with animal energies. The first, Invoking Animal Magic, was about tuning into the magic of animals and emphasized meditation. The second involved interpretation of symbols. From there, the logical step forward is manipulation of the symbols to influence the trajectory of life.