Snake Skin

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Pruning back the old spirea bushes
that sprawled for years in summer’s heat,
I bared the snake skin, a yard and a half long:
its naked empty length rippled in the streaming wind
lifting its ghostly coils from the dead shoots
that scraped the slough from the slithering body
that shed it in that narrow, shaded space.

I paused—who wouldn’t?—shears poised,
slipped off gray canvas gloves, extracted
the sere, striated casing from the brown stalks
that had held it, silent, hidden.

I coiled the paper-thin curling sheath with care,
delicately, eased it into a simple squatty box
for keeping, for care, for my daughters
to take to school, to show, to explain
how some sinuous body we’ve never glimpsed,
that haunts about our shrubs, our porch,
left for us this translucent, scale-scored wrapper,
this silent hint of all that moves unseen.
~Stephen Behrendt “Snakeskin”

 

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Cast off on a sunny spring day
onto a warm manure pile,
a wriggled-free fresh molt snakeskin,
nearly covered by my fresh load~
lay blended with old hay, horse hair, shavings,
tucked among what is already digested,
dumped and discarded.
This, an intact hollowed shadow
of a still living creature
who has moved on:
I too need to leave my old self
shrugged off onto the manure pile,
shed when it no longer fits
the ways I’ve grown hallowed,
a fitting remembrance of
who I once was,
yet left behind.
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Leaving the Old Self Behind

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snakeskin10

snakeskin3

Cast off on a sunny day
onto a warm manure pile,
a wriggled-free fresh snakeskin,
almost covered by my fresh load~
lay blended with old hay, horse hair, shavings,
tucked among what is already digested,
dumped and discarded.
This, an intact hollowed shadow
of a still living creature
who has moved on:
I too need to leave my old self
shrugged off onto the manure pile,
shed when it no longer fits
the ways I’ve grown hallowed,
a fitting remembrance of
who I once was,
yet left behind.
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snakeskinintact
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snakeskin4

Shedding the Undercoat

photos by Nate Gibson

An atypically cool start to the summer meant our farm dog Dylan Thomas, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi,  forgot to take off his winter sweater.  I  completely understand: I wouldn’t want to either if July nighttime temperatures are in the mid-forties and I was an old fellow like he is.   Given his need to stay warm since he sleeps outside, Dylan had not yet blown his heavy coat and we had not put much effort into brushing him out.  Now the temperatures are finally rising so this means the time has come.

His downy undercoat has been hanging in tufts and bulges all over his body yet packed so tightly in places that the effort of brushing is not easy on dog or human.   I know he thinks we’re trying to pull his hide out along with the hair.  Shearing a sheep or llama just might be easier.   I’ve contemplated getting out the clippers, but a clipped Dylan would die of embarrassment (and probably would catch cold).
We are slowly working on relieving him of his cardigan, brush stroke by brush stroke, in a multi-day process accumulating prodigious quantities of hair that could easily be marketed as high R value insulation filler.

I wish my own extra insulation could just be brushed out and thrown away like Dylan’s hair.  Mine clings to me through cold weather and warm, padding my hips and my middle and a few other spots I’d rather not disclose.  I know I don’t really need all the extra fluff, and I know what I must do to shed it, but somehow knowing and doing are not always in synch.

In fact I hang on to a lot that I don’t need, some of which only makes me more miserable, as it is no longer useful and is downright detrimental.    Some of it is tangible accumulation, in a few piles and closets.  Some is not visible but is deeply seeded nevertheless.  The excess hurts to have it pulled out by the roots.

We all have an undercoat that we cling to because it guards our heart,  providing an insulated layer buffering against the chill and sharp edges of life.  We need someone with a good stiff brush, a strong arm and the persistence to save us from ourselves, even when we don’t want saving.  The time has come for the coat to blow.  We’ll be smooth and free once again, feeling the breezes right through our skin, all the way to our heart.

We remain fluffy at our peril.