“I don’t think we can make people think it’s a wildflower refuge any longer, Honey”, gently prompted the Lovely Lady. She was, of course, referring to the front yard; and she was, of course, correct (as she often is). I have once again procrastinated in grooming the grass and am contemplating a forest of weeds and vine-like growths to contend with as a consequence. “I’ll take care of it on Saturday afternoon,” is my standard reply, being careful not to add a modifier to that sentence, like “this Saturday…” or “Saturday the 9th.” It works for a week or two, but this past weekend, it appeared that doomsday had arrived. No rainclouds showed up to grant a stay of execution, no out-of-town guests who had to be entertained, not even any emergency repairs to musical instruments which could postpone the inevitable. This was the day.
I’ve told you about the bushes near the chain-link fence we had to remove because of their recent demise. What I didn’t realize (or conveniently forgot) was that the space between them and the fence was piled high with dead leaves. Before I mowed, it would be necessary to rake the leaves away from the fence and mulch them. After 2 delays…Hey, a guy has to eat lunch, right? I suggested a walk to the popular burger joint down the road, being sure to emphasize the walk to and from as healthy activity. And, after that, a short nap was required – I think you have to wait thirty minutes after eating to start strenuous activity (or is that swimming?). Awaking from my nap, I opened one eye and looked out the window, hoping against hope that rainclouds had developed to prevent me from starting the job. One can’t have a half-mowed yard, don’t you see? If there’s a chance it will rain before the job is done, it’s obviously better not to start. No such luck, so with all possible delays eliminated, the job was begun.
The leaves pulled away from the fence, I was startled to see a two-foot long garter snake staring at me. He seemed confused. After all, that stack of leaves hadn’t been disturbed for at least six years. What happened to his house? I called the Lovely Lady to take a look; more to hear her say, “Ewwwww,” than to serve a constructive purpose, and then tried to herd the cute little fellow away from the fenced in yard. I had a two-fold reason for moving him…First, because the dog inside the fence is a notorious critter-killer; nabbing anything from squirrels to moles to robins and even once, a cat (but we’re not discussing that episode). Secondly, I’m getting ready to mow. I really don’t want to look down and see half a snake under my feet as I pass.
Just a word to the wise: Snakes don’t herd easily. I attempted to shoo him with gentle motions of the rake, prompting him to stop, coil up a bit and raise his head, as if to strike at me. Confident, that he wasn’t really going to come after me, I persisted, at which time he broke and ran…straight for the fence with the fierce canine hunter waiting. I picked him up with the rake and he slithered off, so I tried a modified picking up/tossing method of transportation, with mediocre success. As I approached the fence which bordered my yard and the neighbor’s, he slipped away from me and through the fence. I would have been content to let him be, but he then came back to the leaves next to the fence, weaving his way under them. As I listened to the rustling, he quite obviously moved right back inside the fenced-in back yard, where I had yet to mow and the dog would be free to pursue him. Moving inside the yard, disgustedly, I again moved the leaves away from the fence and, sure enough, soon had the little fellow uncovered. This time, he had had enough; slithering away quickly into the relative safety of the neighbor’s yard, where he remains, to the best of my knowledge.
As I continued to work in the yard, mulching and mowing and trimming, I considered the snake and his reaction to me. I only wanted to help him. I intended him no harm; quite the reverse – I intended to protect him. However, I’m pretty sure that any memory he may have of the encounter will tell him otherwise. He almost certainly will regard a man with a rake as an enemy, ready to threaten and pick up into the air and toss him about. I’m pretty sure that years of counseling by the snake psychiatrist couldn’t convince him otherwise.
I’m also remembering a time, many years ago, when a pastor in a church I attended had a similar problem. The young pastor had taken a wrong turn or two in dealing with the church and as those events came to light, many of the folks shrank back, not wanting to be involved. One man in the church, however, was determined to help the pastor through the minefield and spent hours talking, counseling, and trying to guide him. The young man didn’t want his help; didn’t believe that he needed the help; and was convinced that his benefactor was in fact, an enemy. After a messy end to the pastor’s ministry there, I heard one man say, “The pastor may not ever recognize it, but that man was the best friend he’s ever had.” I’m sure, to this day, the pastor would beg to differ.
Why don’t we recognize who our true friends are? We surround ourselves with people who agree with us, and coddle us, and allow us to go straight to disaster. Worse, we are, many times, the friends who facilitate and encourage others to a bitter end. We avoid conflict at any cost, choosing a false peace in order to not rock the boat. I think it’s time we comprehend that true friends tell us that we’re too fat for those pants, that we need to practice a little more before we attempt that horn solo the next time, and that we’re making foolish decisions in our life. We need to say this with love and in the spirit of building up, not tearing down, but it must be done. Real friends put themselves on the line for their friends, even if it could result in misunderstanding. Our friends are worth far more than “peace at any cost.”
It turns out that herding humans is far more difficult than herding snakes. And I’m not positive, but it just may be possible that the snake learns his lesson faster, too…
“Better are the wounds of a friend, than the deceitful kisses of an enemy.”
“He only profits from praise who values criticism.”
(Heinrich Heine~German poet~1797-1856)