My Polish friend Ruta referred to her jeep as "a playhouse for ze animals." It was an open jeep that she kept parked out by the barn. Chickens roosted in it; goats climbed on it. She was right when she said, "Ze Jeep needs to air out a little." But I had to borrow it to get to the gallery,
After my nose stopped quivering, I settled into the rhythm of the hills, comfortably swaying to the suicide curves of the two-lane. But, as I happily rolled around the hillsides, a strange sensation was coming into my consciousness. Was my foot going to sleep or was something leaning against my ankle? The hairs on my unshaven leg flittered, as if a lightweight scarf was softly ruffling around my joint. While still in innocence, I glanced downward, only to see the most unacceptable, most intimidating, most dangerous thing I could have imagined. My body went rigid.
My mind was a strobe light, hot flashing every direction. I trembled in horror.
Looking down at my feet, I saw a flexible mass of scales, symmetrically contracting and relaxing, a giant, white splotched snake moving in smooth waves around my lower leg. It seemed to arrive from a large coil by the passenger door via a lazy river of scales, sliding in smooth, silent waves over the center hump to my right ankle. It coursed around my ankle and lower leg not once, but twice, with its thick 2-to-3- inch girth and length--who knew how long? Most of his trunk looked as if someone had thrown bleach onto a light grey-white body, painting him with an inch-wide black line running down his vertebrae as an afterthought. The pink forked tongue flicked rapidly; the eyes glistening ice. The dry skin slithered, slowly, slowly, slowly up my right leg, testing my unsolicited patience, until his head lay over my left shin.
The Jeep, with little supervision, drove drunkenly through the hills and hollows of the Ozarks back roads.
Rhythmic movement of the snake's body launched its head over my left shin, swooshing into the vacant space below the dash. My world stood still. The peristaltic motions of the snake thrust its head under the hood, the enormous body disappearing by inches straight up under the dash, leaving a thin tail dribbling over my foot. I hear the beating of my heart.
While the snake disappeared toward the heat of the motor, I was careening down the hill into a 90-degree right curve. It was a race course turn on two wheels. My body shifted backwards to brace for disaster. I dove into this life- threatening curve, concerned the snake would be sliding into the hot motor, and I would be killed in a collision careening off the road.
Coming out of the curve, my mantra became a repeated, I need a plan. I need a plan. Then the booming voice of my silver-tongued grandfather intoned, "When in doubt, do nothing."
"Do nothing!" Relief flooded over me. I was ecstatic. I had a plan. Do nothing! It seemed so reasonable. Confidence started to infiltrate the atmosphere.
As I climbed the next hill, the snake descended from the motor cavity, undulating to the driver's door, heading for the back seat when, it folded upon itself, returning to the corner of the driver's seat. With an energetic thrust, the snake shot from the seat corner up through the back of the steering wheel and stopped abruptly. My heart bounced in my chest as I hypnotically noticed how the wheel framed his pin head and searing eyes. We were practically eyeball to eyeball. The daunting deadly stare of this bleached serpent exhibited no movement of eyelids, seemingly no emotions. The Jeep drove itself. Oh God help me.
The road dove down another hill. Our eyes remained riveted. I have to turn this wheel into the curve and take my chances.
I jerked the wheel; the Jeep shivered like a junk pile in an earthquake. I was still frightened that if I braked, my knees might knock him about on this roller coaster of curves. My focus juggled between his beady eyes and the harrowing road challenges ahead.
I remembered a country hardware store several curves ahead. The coasting Jeep, with snake swaying to the steering wheel's maneuvers, finally snailed into the parking lot and stopped. With his beady black eyes still focused on my face, I threw open the door and threw myself over the lowered loop of the snake and out of the Jeep. I shouted to anyone within a hundred miles, "Help! There's a snake in my Jeep, a snake in my front seat. "Help me, help me!"
The salespeople couldn't understand a word I was screaming, so I rushed back to the Jeep. I found the snake coiled in the corner of the trunk. Rescuing a 1x4 plank nearby, I inserted it behind the coiled snake and shoved it out the back door. Thump. It landed on the pavement.
After collecting himself, he started across the parking lot. I thought our encounter was over. I was breathing again. But no! The snake stopped 20 feet away, lifted its head a foot off the asphalt, turned and locked into my eyes. Crepes, what am I supposed to be learning here?
I was glued to his eyes in the hot sun, until it hit me. "I never thought once of harming this creature and never once did it try to threaten me. We were just two animals thrown together in a dangerous place, each doing the best we could at the moment. This was a spiritual experience, and I fell into a feeling of gratitude. The Universe is a friendly, beautiful place. I surmised then that it was just an albino black snake. He lowered his head and slithered off.