The child has been running. The child’s face is red and blotchy. The child is gulping for air. The child huffs out the words I’ve heard so many times in the past five years, “Mom! We saw a snake!!”

I remember when we were trying to find renters for our house in town so we could move to our little farm. One of the possible renters said, “Why would you ever want to leave such a nice neighborhood and home?” I quickly responded with, “Oh, we have an opportunity to live in the country!” knowing the light would dawn and she’d nod and respond “Oh!” with complete understanding. I mean….anyone would rather live in the country, right? With nature right outside one’s door? But instead she shuddered and uttered one word with disdain: “snakes!

But here on the Jackson farm, we like snakes. Oh, the ridicule I have endured because, when I find a three-foot-long black snake in the chicken coop, I carefully (with beating heart) capture it, and my husband transports it far away. No, I don’t want it eating the chicken eggs, but death seems a ridiculous punishment for such a small offense. We value all life. We rejoice when we see those lovely king snakes: they not only eat mice but pygmy rattlesnakes, too!

Because, here on the Jackson farm, we also try to be wise about  snakes. Along with those black snakes and king snakes, we also occasionally see pygmy rattlesnakes (they have more venom than the big ones….) and copperheads.  No, we don’t transport these.

We first saw a pygmy rattlesnake on our land before we even moved in–when we were still remodeling the house–and it had a huge effect on me. I looked at my small children and I looked at that little piece of poisonous flesh, and I had an all-out panic attack. I had to re-think this dream of country living. Did the trees and pond and pasture and boulders and garden and space and pets balance the danger of sharing my space with something that could kill me? I thought it through. I felt it through. I bought us each a pair of rubber boots and we moved on to the land.

Last night, though, this huffing child describes a new kind of snake: “Mom, it was black with red on it’s head and a yellow belly and it was swimming in the pond! Will you look it up on the internet? Please?” I’m a home school mom and it is my duty when a child says, “Will you look it up on the internet?” to do so.  We couldn’t find the snake they had seen but we saw so many photos of Water Moccasins, they became sure that is what they had seen. The children paddle boat in that pond and Water Moccasins are aggressive snakes. The husband got out his gun.

An hour later Anya found me alone in the kitchen and laid her head on my chest. She whispered, “Mom, I feel so bad….I thought it was a Water Moccasin but it was just a regular water snake.”

“I know, Honey. I know. God knows. The snake even knows”. The same friends who don’t understand why we gently move black snakes from the chicken coop, may not understand my daughter’s reaction, but I do.

And then I heard these wise words come out of my mouth. Words that I hope I can transcribe in permanent ink upon my heart, “Sometimes when we’re afraid we do things we don’t mean to do.” Our family doesn’t kill non-poisonous snakes. It’s a choice we’ve made. Yet, in a moment of fear, we did just that. How many times do I–in a fog of fear–make a choice against what I really want?

And that, My Friend,  is this morning’s snake story.

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