Saturday, February 7, 2009

Snake City

It was late winter, several years ago, the early wildflowers were putting on a pretty spectacular display. I planned a walk on the Bibbulman track, from Shelley Beach across West Cape Howe to Bornholm Beach Road and back. None of my regular walking partners wanted to come, so I decided to go alone. I thought walking alone would be a great opportunity for thinking through an issue which had been troubling me. I’d recently become aware that I had become quite distracted and unproductive, obsessed with a matter which was consuming all my energy and going nowhere.
I parked my car at Shelley’s Lookout and headed bush. I was about a kilometre and a half into the walk, all uphill, stopped to rest at the top of a hill and realised with a shock that I’d left my hat in the car. I had a choice of going back to get it or going on without it - it was a warm, sunny day. I thought it wiser to turn around. Setting out for the second time I climbed the hill again. Now completely warmed up, I set off down the dirt track at a pretty fast pace. I rounded a corner and met a snake coming down the track in my direction! The snake went left into a cluster of rocks, I went right. A little further along another snake crossed the track in front of me. Then a few moments later, going downhill on steps formed with logs, I step onto a log and disturbed a snake on the other side. I tried not to be distracted by the acres of bush in flower around me or by the insidious way my walking rhythm lulled me into the world of my thoughts, several more times I was jolted back to reality by rustles from the bush alongside the track, snakes retreating into the scrub or travelling downhill ahead of me. After some time spent crossing around the back of West Cape Howe, I reached the coast. The Cape to my left, the wild Southern Ocean in front, and Bornholm Beach curving away to my right. I stood absolutely spellbound. Yes, I thought, God was here, recently. I don’t know why I looked down, but there on the track right beside me was a snake, sunbaking. I went North, the snake went South. I kept going. The walk was proving tougher than I’d imagined it would be. A lot of it was uphill, and one of those hills was a real challenge. I laboured up it, one man-made step after the other, and half way up disturbed another snake! I was breathless for more than one reason. After that, it was a cruisey walk downhill and along a winding but flat track to Bornholm Beach Road, a sandy four-wheel drive track. I sat on a log at the side of the track, rested and ate my lunch. It seemed to me I’d been receiving warnings via the snakes all morning, as though something was saying: Pay attention. Barbara, pay attention! I turned around, resolving to make as much noise as I could, to sing, to shout, to recite poems, to walk loud, to make sure those snakes were long gone by the time I got anywhere near them. I had a good time, composed some awful song lyrics, sang until I was hoarse, walked myself into a strong, comfortable rhythm. But, without realising, I’d stopped the noise making. My thoughts busied themselves with my current obsession and I slipped into that rhythm that walking long distances gets you into, where you cover the ground without really being present. The pace is steady and fast. Too quiet. The tiger snake was standing on its tail in the middle of the track and striking when I saw it! I don’t know how, but despite the speed of my forward momentum I flew backwards! I stopped. Terrified. My heart felt as though it would thump its way out of my chest. Stand still! Don’t run! Stand still! The snake half-dropped to the ground, head swaying slightly. I thought it might charge at me. It looked like it was going to charge me … then it wavered and veered off into the scrub at the side of the path. God! Oh, God! Fear cemented my feet to the ground. I don’t know how long I stood there before I began to think rationally. Move! And I launched myself from that spot, ran full pelt past the place where the snake had left the path and I ran until I couldn’t run any more and then I walked and I never took my eyes off the track not even for a for a milli-second and I jumped at every lizard, every bee, every dragonfly, screamed when a feral cat shot out of the heath and into a cluster of peppermints. About an hour later, approaching the crest of the last hill before the descent to the Lookout car park, I hesitated. The track was bordered by heavily eroded limestone rocks, it was late afternoon and the shadows were lengthening. That first snake? I drove down to the beach and sat in the car shaking, watching the waves come in. I just watched the waves come in.


  1. My God!! What a day that was.
    You know I have met several snakes in one walk out at the Windmills (Sand Patch)It has occurred to me that the Bibbulmun Track logo is a snake, so maybe that is significant. I like snakes and to see one snake is fine, but to bump into the darlings every second step of the way is very unnerving.
    But the snake is sacred too and when I meet with them I always think it is significant. He is the Dreamtime's Rainbow Serpent, the Noongar Wagyl, and the local Menang people have their 'deputy' snake in the Marjit, the green carpet snake who is very sacred and guards the waterways. In our mythology he is the Celtic Dragon, but also the Judeo-Christian serpent in the Garden of Eden associated with sex, vice and tempatation. So, for symbolic meaning....take your pick!

  2. A good read and yep, ya just gotta be on constant alert when there is a snake around! LOL!

  3. Snakes just DO things to us, hey? Hopefully they helped with those issues!

  4. They helped all right, Sarah... I think I've been paying attention ever since!

  5. The photo is from the webcam on the former HMAS Perth dive-wreck in King George Sound.