A few days ago, I edited this passage out of my manuscript:
"Put it out of its misery: empty words to justify killing. Johnny had heard that phrase since he'd been a child: he'd memorized the words and muttered them under his breath as he'd ended the misery of hundreds of lives, everything from trapped mice to a mare that had been ripped apart by her own foal's birth. And every time that he killed, he wondered if misery was worse than what had followed: the blank emptiness and finality of death."
It's not that I don't like that paragraph -- I do -- but it just didn't seem to fit the flow of the scene. I tried to shoehorn it into a couple other places but it still stood out to me: although it seems to express the character's thoughts, the wording is perhaps too naked, too emotive for a hard man like Johnny. Or is it too introspective? I don't know. Maybe the reason I can't reconcile myself with those sentences is that they come too close to my own life for comfort.
Most people have strong feelings about snakes: they might hate them or fear them, and some profess an almost perverse fascination with them. I've never been able to muster a whole lot of any kind of emotion for snakes. A few like milk snakes and blue racers are astonishingly beautiful. Hog-nosed snakes, with their seeming endless array of blustery defenses, crack me up. And fer-de-lance -- the snake campesinos call "twenty breath" because they say if a person is bitten, he will only live to draw twenty more breaths -- do scare the hell out of me. But for the most part, I find that my reaction to snakes is roughly the same as Freud's famous quotation about his cigars.
Snakes are cold-blooded, and because of this in the fall and spring they sometimes have a hard time getting going in the morning's chill. On clear, cool days, snakes will often slither to open, unshaded areas -- rocky outcrops, dry streambeds -- literally getting their blood flowing by warming their bodies in the sun. A particularly enticing -- and dangerous -- basking place is the surface of a road.
We live along a rural dirt road barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other -- 8 AM and 3 PM are particularly dangerous hours since the school bus driver fancies himself to be a cowboy hell bent for leather. From our little wooded hollow, the road climbs beside Shanty Creek past a couple of hunting shacks and Dan's dairy farm to the open fields at the crest of Button Hill. It's about two miles to the top: a lung-busting run up but a coast -- with wide-open views of the surrounding hillsides -- on the way down. The absence of frequent traffic makes for a tempting mid-morning break for the gang: the dogs Trooper and Otter and their accompanying human.
Once in a while, though, we do encounter traffic. An October day: the sky that unique shade of blue that only occurs in the fall when the changing leaves of sugar maples offer their orange as a complement and the clouds are so defined that you feel that you could pluck them right out of the sky. An oversexed pickup -- black and macho with fat, gas-robbing tires and a purely decorative roll-bar -- barrels down the hill toward us. I gather the pups in the grass at the side of the road as the monster shrieks past. Trooper, of course, demands that I toss his ever-present stick before we can continue. Back on the road, we've gone less than fifty yards before I pull up short.
It's a garter snake, maybe ten inches long: a sweet, inoffensive little guy. He'd been minding his own business, sunning himself, trying to build up enough warmth in his blood so that he could get moving on his daily chores: grasshoppers, froglets, and slugs were waiting to be eaten. But that's not an option now: the lower half of the snake's body has been crushed by the pickup. The front part, what would be the head and neck and shoulders in a normal animal, strikes out blindly in pain and rage and fear and frustration, striking out blindly with open mouth, with two pairs of needle fangs, striking blindly, desperately, at anything that its addled senses perceive as a potential foe in a frantic defense of the last remaining entrails of life.
I know: it's just a snake. It's debatable as to how much (or even if) the thing actually perceives pain. The creature's brain is the size of a kernel of sweet corn, its nervous system hopelessly rudimentary by human standards. Would something as crudely fashioned as a snake even be cognizant of life, much less its impending death?
But forget physiology: the snake's frenzied strikes are not calming as I watch. He does not go gentle into that good night. The frantic flailing is tearing my heart. I try to run away from it but only get a few feet down the road before I stop and begin searching for a suitably sized rock. It takes me forever to find one big enough, and when I go back up the road the snake is still battling the blind demon death for all he's worth. I get down on my knees -- the last thing I want to do is strike a glancing blow and submit the poor thing to even more pain -- and drop the rock. It's a clean hit: a head shot. The center portion of the striped, slender body -- the area that houses the heart -- shudders once, and then is still.
I leave the rock where it lies, hoping that maybe it will throw the next monster truck out of alignment. But I know in my heart that the rock isn't big enough to damage anything of consequence in this world
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources