July 16, 2020

Snake Bit And Seething

Have you ever given yourself permission to literally howl at the moon, knowing that it won’t change anything, but that it might feel good? I really never have done that – I’ve always just worked harder to find a solution or I’ve cut and run to something that I know would be the next best right thing to do.


Yet I have this memory from my childhood that encapsulates that experience of utter frustration. We had a family property in outback NSW and one of our highly trained and much beloved working dogs was ensnared by a brown snake and things looked like they were about to be over for Rex the red kelpie. 


Out on the property, it was about an hour’s drive to the nearest town, Gunnedah, and so if there was a snake bit dog…it was either a miracle or it was over. My great uncle Peter, who had previously had his own snake bite encounter (and a very stressful trip into town,) wanted to help Rex. Partly because he was a beloved dog butt also because a well trained sheep dog like Rex goes for about $10,000 in the bush and we’d raised him from a pup. 


So Peter had taken a stock whip and gently was able to wrap it around the snake so that it couldn’t move. Our job, while Peter had the snake entrapped, was to call Rex and get him to move out of harm’s way. For what felt like the longest time, Rex stood frozen – mirroring the snakes moves – he didn’t understand that he was safe and all he could see was the snake in front of him and his faithful duty to the sheep behind him. 


It’s about as dramatic as things could get on the property, which was a well-run enterprise that had invested in sustainable farming methods before it was fashionable. We still used horses and dogs to muster even though it took weeks, and we invested in natural irrigation strategies while neighbours were buying helicopters and quad bikes. We worked with the indigenous title holders on the property and my family respected their knowledge and skill as trackers and stockmen – again, a long time before anyone in the city was even talking about reconciliation, the Kamilaroi were community and family. 


I digress, back to Peter, Rex  and the brown snake. It was hot and dusty and the noise of everyone trying to break Rex’s concentration was deafening. Skilled with his whip, Peter was determined to save the snake from harm if he could (rats were a big problem so snakes were important,) but Rex’s and our safety for that matter was paramount. 


The look on the face and the behaviour of this brown snake caught in the stockwhip was unforgettable. The second deadliest snake in the world was something I will never forget. It is seared in my memory as a vignette of utter frustration. Peter was this immoveable external force of frustration and the snake could neither fight Peter nor could it get away. The snake was simply held down. 


And what happened next. In frustration and desperation, that snake turned on its own body and bit. It bit and bit itself – it must have been a dozen times in a thoroughly distressing showcase of self-destruction. The bites weren’t deadly from venom, obviously, so the snake wasn’t paralysed, it just seemed to lash out from the frustration at the only thing it could – itself. 


Meanwhile, one of the jackaroos swooped in and saved Rex putting him across the shoulders of his horse and my uncle released the tension of the whip and moved back to a safe distance. The snake eventually wriggled out of the whip, bleeding and defeated, it moved in the opposite direction to us, Rex and the sheep. You don’t go chasing after brown snakes so I have no idea what happened to it – but the frustration and contortion of it came back to me last night.


We have recently moved and there are boxes everywhere. I’ve hurt my back badly. Despite being able to rough it on the farm with the best of them, I like a clean and orderly house and living with boxes and chaos does not do it for me. So normally I would just work like a demon to get it all done, but my back says no. So the frustration of being stuck with all the boxes made me remember that snake. 


I cried. I howled. I yelled. And it wasn’t my best time but when you are born without patience and value autonomy over everything else; the tyranny of an inconvenient injury was just devastating. And while I didn’t get to the point of harming myself or any of my things or anyone else, the frustration was undeniable. 


If I’m being honest, it isn’t just boxes. Sometimes it is a bin overflowing with crumpled drafts as I am trying to write or get an idea out of my head. Sometimes it is an overflowing inbox and no daylight in the calendar. Sometimes it is stubbing my toe as the last bit of frustration I could cope with when I had everything else handled. Muhammad Ali said that it was that stone in your shoe not the mountain you climb that will get you.


Yet, as the highly irrational tears flowed out over that stone in my shoe – those chaotic boxes …there was a release that allowed me to slither away and cope with the chaos for another day. I guess what I am saying is that it is ok to give yourself permission to be frustrated and to howl at the moon if you need to release it. Getting that pressure out can give you the space to wriggle out and move into a better place.

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