This morning I ventured out for what I refer to tongue-in-cheek at Sunday Services at the Temple of Mud, Sweat, and Blood, which is to say that I spent some time on a local trail trying to clear my head. I have a favorite loop trail that is just the right length and difficulty to let me work through whatever happens to be on my mind.
After several days of torrential downpours and thunderstorms, the conditions on trail were pretty miserable – slippery rocks, shoe-eating mud bogs, and downed limbs. Horrendous trail conditions force my focus to what’s physically in front of me and to make rapid gut-instinct decisions about each step. If my mind wanders, there’s a fair certainty that I’m going to fall, which means a potential injury with the added bonus of a mud bath. These are some of my favorite conditions when I want to forget about something that’s gnawing at me.
Today, there were several downed trees thanks to the well-soaked ground. The first three were small and easily passed. About a quarter-mile into the mire and muck, two trees had fallen across the trail- the first low to the ground, the second just above waist height a few inches behind the first. This isn’t a huge barrier – the instinct is to step over the first, duck under the second, and you’re back on your way. Except stepping over a fallen tree or log in this part of the world is a very bad idea and a very good way to step on a rattler or copperhead that you can’t see. If you take nothing else from this post, remember this: Step carefully onto the fallen tree and then scan the ground behind the tree before stepping down.
In this case, there was a Black Racer waiting there – not venomous, but still a large and potentially aggressive snake. Suddenly, the obstacle was not so easy to pass, particularly as going off trail meant wading through poison ivy and brambles. As I stood contemplating whether to turn back, I realized that the situation mirrored the thing that had been on my mind as I’d set out on trail – a friendship that has been holding me back and causing frustration. If the message from the universe were not clear enough, I recalled as I stared at the snake that the friend identifies the snake as her ‘spirit animal’. Sometimes, the Powers That Be (TM) leave little doubt about what you need to be doing. So the question became – do I let a non-lethal nuisance block my way or do I find a way around it? What amount of control over my life am I willing to give someone who would impede my forward movement as a way of asserting their own power?
In the end, I opted to sidle around the snake, rather than turning back and facing a quarter mile uphill hike back to where I’d started. A small tree at the side of the trail made for a good handhold while scrambling over both of the fallen trees. A small drop to the ground and I was on my way again and didn’t encounter another downed tree (or snake) in the remaining mile and a half of trail. Now, hopefully, my slithering friend can be dealt with so swiftly and painlessly.