An unholy alliance

Edgars Mission - chicken, dog, Latini, Pam, red barron, Ruby, Sheep

This is a tale a younger version of myself could never have penned, yet it is one that commenced in my youth.  I was about 13 years old and living in country Victoria when a snake was spotted in the house yard.  A robust fear of snakes was something all us kids held since I cannot remember when.  We’d been taught to fear snakes for their deadly, slithery and evil intent to obliterate our species at every opportunity.  At the time there were five kids in our household and we all screamed at the sight of the snake sunning himself on the driveway in front of our house.  As one of our courageous crew raced off to alert any adult we could find, the others including myself, sought out a vantage point some distance away. From here we watched on as the now disturbed creature attempted to make good his escape.  Taking refuge in the nearest thing he could find, a pile of neatly stacked bricks became his fortress. One of us stood guard, shovel in hand as we had been instructed, praying all the while we would not have to come good on the deed should the snake rear his serpent-like head.  I must have drawn the short straw that day as I was charged with this task until the male of the household arrived home.  In what seemed like a sweaty eternity, he finally did arrive. Several forthright and determined strides saw him, brick by brick, dismantling the reptilian hideaway. And as each brick was dislodged from its place, for me at least, the pendulum started to swing and in doing so the snake began to morph from deadly villain to desperate victim. Yet sadly that was not enough to spare the hapless animal his life, as the snake was mercilessly killed before our eyes and never again would the man or the snake be seen in the same light. 

And as the sun came up the next day I was unable to convey to those around me why I declined to take what was left of the once vibrant yet vulnerable being to school for show and tell. My choice however, made perfect sense somewhere deep inside my soul. For some time, I beat myself up over the snake episode and for many years it has raised its ugly head to haunt me.  So much of my world changed on that day, perhaps it was even my “crossing the Rubicon” moment. Whilst at the time I did not know why, I do today.  I take some measure of comfort in recognising that on that day I was just a kid struggling to conform with the social norms around me. I was that round peg not fitting into that square hole that formed both my family and my tribe, and at its heart was my recognition that  taking the life of a being who desperately wanted to live was wrong.

Today I cannot claim to be a card-carrying ophiophilist. Snakes still send quivers up my spine, cause my palms to sweat and adrenaline to course through my veins. However, I recognise this is but my perception of them and their reality should not be condemned by this. I am a student of evolution and as I search the archives of my then 13-year-old brain to find the source of both my fear and knowledge (or lack thereof) about snakes I unearth one branded by myth and shaped by the common thought that “the only good snake is a dead snake.” Science, fact and compassion play no part.

So why do we believe what we believe? And are our thoughts really our own, or are they ones we have inherited from others and never really thought that much about?  We are indeed a tribal species; the need to belong drives much of our behaviour. Ultrasociality, tribal groups and a sense of moral community have been what has woven us all together for thousands of years, if not longer, a lot longer, bridging us from small groups or foragers who eked out an existence to the successful collective tribes we are today, working together toward communal goals.

From the vantage point of survival, it paid dividends to cooperate with those around you, sharing the same beliefs and values, to work together and to scratch the back of a mate so they can return the favour. It most certainly was counter-intuitive to cause a fuss. Or was it? We so much like to think of ourselves as beings of free will and thought, yet so much of what we do, think and say is shaped by those around us and the environment in which we live. Yet counter to this, what has enabled our species to evolve to “higher” levels has indeed been those courageous enough, inquisitive enough and compassionate enough to step beyond these lines in the sand and psyche and challenge popular thought.

Some years back, yet another close encounter of a wiggly kind came my way as a tiger snake stole his way into our houseyard. Yet before I could gather my thoughts, those childhood chills zipped up my spine as someone called a young lad from down the road to “deal with the snake”.  With history repeating itself, I was charged with watching which way the snake headed. Locking eyes on his reptilian form I dared not blink as the cavalier chap, armed with a spade entered the scene.  Having watched the snake for what seemed an eternity, although it was probably only a matter of minutes, I saw a being who was seeking to flee, for the very same reason I would seek to flee should I be pursued by someone many times larger than myself.  As evolution told the snake it didn’t pay to stick around, something inside me spoke. Moments later those words were echoed, “He went thata way,” I said. “Are you sure?” quizzed the spade-wielding young gladiator. “Yes, I’m sure.  He went thatta way”. And off the would-be snake-slayer was directed as the snake safely slithered in the opposite direction.  Although I know my actions that day will never wash away my part in the deadly demise of the snake killed in my youth, it did remind me that we humans have so much power over animals.  Power that we so often do not even realise we have, power that has escaped scrutiny and ethical thought, sanctified by societal norms -a most unholy alliance indeed.  And just because we are not attuned enough to see the commonality we share with animals who sit outside our tribe, it doesn’t mean it is not there.

There are several footnotes to this story.

The first is that between 2000 and 2016 there have been 35 deaths attributed to snakes in Australia and most of them have occurred when people either attempted to kill the snake or accidentally disturbed the animal (thereby posing a threat to the animal’s life).

Snakes are known as middle-order predators and play a key role in natural ecosystems.  They are predators to prey species which would otherwise rise to unnatural levels and snakes are prey for predator species who would struggle to survive in their absence.

Snakes are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and should not be killed or taken from the wild.

Keeping dwellings and properties clean and free from debris can greatly limit encounters with snakes.

Safe to say, there is not a snake alive today (or even one who has passed at the hands of humans) who awoke in the morning with the thought “I’m off to hunt and kill humans” sadly we humans cannot extend such a kindness.

A final word; what makes us human is the comfort we take from living in our “tribe”. What makes us humane is having the courage and the kindness to step beyond this.

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21 thoughts on “An unholy alliance

  1. Wow…what an extraordinary story!!! Well said Pam. Good for you. I believe every creature deserves to live…matter how big or how small. I myself save the lives of spiders. They are such unique being. Thank you for what you did to save that snake’s life. God bless you.

    • That was a fantastic story. I feel for the snake whose life was ended so horribly. I also believe every creature deserves to live and not to be deliberately killed just for the pleasure of the human species.I also save live spiders and even other innocent little creatures from being killed. I believe all these precious creatures have the right to live and not to be killed because of the beliefs of our parents who told us that these precious and little beings are dangerous and must be killed.
      I am so pleased that you saved that helpless snakes life who was trying to avoid you just like the helpless snake when you were a child. .
      It is the human species who are the dangerous monsters not the innocent little cretures.
      Keep up your great work Edgar’s Mission by saving the lives of our precious and innocent animals.
      Absolutely heart warming.

  2. Here in rural Tassie we have snakes all over the place. We just let them be, they never cause problems and always go the other way when they see us. They don’t even cause the chooks any problems, and they remove many of the rats that would otherwise infest the place.

    I hear of other people being chased by tiger snakes, but it’s only because they attempted to harm or catch the snake, or one of their dogs did. Some people aren’t too bright, unfortunately.

    It’s simple really, leave them alone, and they will leave you alone. The same seems to work for most animals, unless they are in a particularly bad mood (we have a Muscovy drake who sees red for no discernible reason, but sure we will learn his strange ways eventually!

  3. Absolutely brilliant as always! I feel the same way. I am unable to kill anything, not even a cockroach. If only everyone felt the same the world truly would be utopia. Edgars Mission, Utopia for animals thanks to you Pam and all at EM.

  4. As a child, I too experienced a similar ‘snake encounter’ and I recall feeling so sad! I felt it was such a beautiful creature, and it fought so hard for its life, it wasn’t seeking to hurt anyone! I have complete respect for these awesome creatures!!

  5. Good Snake tale Pam. Pity we don’t sanctify Snakes like the Indians. But we’ll just overtake all their habitat until they lose the battle. Hope you’re keeping well and steering clear of C. H.

  6. We must all have deep regrets about our history with animals, or we wouldn’t be relating to Pam’s story so strongly – and probably thinking like me, about the global human ignorance of true animal nature. The horrendous stories of cruelty that confront us every day show that humans are devolving and that there are billions who may never have that amazing breakthrough moment of enlightenment.

  7. As an extension of your moving story, I refer to my daughter Liz Spencer, well known to you who goes to extreme lengths to preserve the life, safety and well-being of every threatened spider, ant etc.
    I try to emulate her but have not as yet reached that stage of enlightenment, particularly ants who tend to scare the pants off my cat; I don’y harm them but do not as yer remove each one to a place of safety.
    I wish you every success in The Year of the PIG.

  8. I’m afraid I feel the same way about snakes as you do. The send chills up my spine. Glad I haven’t seen one in the flesh. I agree with you that there is a reason why every creature is here for the environment. I try and follow the Buddhist way of life. I don’t love them but my ideal world would be live and let live.

  9. Isn’t it amazing how the understanding of the natural world is evolving in each one of us. Surely this is the work of the universe unlocking our hearts and minds from outdated, outmoded ways of thinking. Just like Gail, I try to follow the Buddhist (and Taoist) way of life, live and let live. Thank you Pam for your insights and your continued commitment to the work to which you have been called.

  10. Pam,
    From one Pam to another I agree and feel exactly how you do about snakes and have i wish I could show my love for all animals the way you and you are a hero of mine for all you do for them. We move up to country Victoria because of my love for animals and had a rescued ex racehorse from 10yrs to 32 years plus dogs and cats. In 2013 because of financial difficulties we lost the property thank goodness my beautiful horse had gone over the rainbow bridge by then so we moved back to the city with the rest of our rescued animals. The worst part of this i use to donate toto rescue havens like yours but financially i cannot do that anymore. Thank goodness for people like you.

  11. A beautiful read, and so very true.
    As I don’t understand how my brother (a farmer) had no empathy towards animals and still till today.
    Yet we are so different, when we were young visiting my Uncle’s Dairy & Pig farm.
    I would go and visit the piglets and clean out their mum’s shed and pen (what they had in the 1970’s) I would play with them for hours.
    Yet my brother would join my uncle and watch him cut the tails off with a pocket knife. And throw dead piglets in the air. I don’t understand him at all to why he is like this. He looks in disgust when my dogs are kissed and hugged. It’s sad and his kids are somewhat the same. :-(

  12. Thank you for your story and your wisdom. I feel and think just like what you wrote. It is always a pleasure to read and be touched by your wisdom.

  13. You write so beautifully Pam, expressing so much of what so many of us feel but are not as deft with words. You and your team at Edgar’s Mission are a beacon of hope and along with other organisations such as Animals Australia, are doing so much to show, in a gentler way, how we need to recognise that all animals deserve compassion and care.
    Thank you

  14. Your post was sooo inspiring–i had read,long ago, that we are “hard-wired” to fear snakes-It is much easier to respond to a being with fur-soulful eyes-etc. But now i view snakes in an entirely different light–Yes, they wish to live and breathe–They deserve our respect and I will never feel the same about “dispatching” one should they cross my path–i do not kill spiders and any longer after reading they are a valuable asset to one’s environment–Thanks for opening a new world of understanding–Now if we can convince “humanity’ to quit killing our animal friends!

  15. I have a large copperhead patrolling my rather large yard, I let people know there is one out there somewhere and to leave well alone as he/she is a resident and has been for years ! I have spotted more then one on different occasions , we leave them in peace and vice-versa, they have as much right to be here as we do ! Thank you Pam and team for all your wonderful work !

  16. Dear Pam, what a beautifully healing experience you have created for your Younger Self, not only with the “he went thataway” episode, but also with everything you do at Edgar’s Mission. How valuable to remind our younger (and present) selves that fitting into a tribe is necessary for survival. Thank you for working so hard to educate the human tribe about the needs and feelings of all our other animal tribes, and by leading by example to demonstrate that kindness changes the world – one beating heart at a time. You are a gift for whom I am very, very grateful.

  17. Reading this story and the comments of other “like minded” people gives me hope. I too fear snakes, yet know it’s because it has been engrained in me. My heart breaks for that snake you saw get killed with your own eyes. I’m the outside thinker in my tribe and now my family of four are all outside thinkers and the outcasts for sure. Not belonging is hard, but at the same time feels so right. Thank you for all you do!

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