click to enlarge | Photograph by Peter Rasberry - Kitchener, ON.
By Karl Backhaus
My first Encounters with Snakes
The snake story is very dear to my heart for it began with great fear and ended with love. There was nothing worse for my wife Elke and me than to encounter a snake. Not knowing any better, we had inherited the common fear and horror of snakes when we spent the first summer at our newly acquired property. In Germany, snakes are rare, so we were not expecting any here either. We wondered where we had ended up when snakes constantly appeared out of nowhere. Whenever we saw one, it would race away in panic towards the water.
Obviously, these were water snakes that could swim very fast above and below the surface of the water. Elke was afraid to go into the water, for snakes could show up at any time. She wanted me to get rid of them. At first, her request made sense to me.
Armed with a rake for keeping them at a safe distance, soon I saw my first snake on the lawn. I got hold of it and killed it with the rake in a terrible drama. I was so upset that I said to Elke, “That’s it—I would rather live with snakes than kill another one.” And so it was. Elke was not happy about my refusal to kill snakes but she did not want to kill them either.
Somehow we had to learn to tolerate these snakes—but could we still enjoy our property? Like a continuing cosmic joke, we soon encountered other types of snakes.
Some of the snakes were yellow with black strips; others were green. Who knew what else would show up? I had to do some research to see if any of these snakes were dangerous. To our relief, none were poisonous. We could relax a little, but we were not happy to have all these snakes on the land. If we wanted to keep the property we had little choice but to accept the snakes as part of the landscape.
My Change of Attitude towards Snakes
Over a period of several years, I tried to overcome my aversion. As a first step towards accepting snakes, I began observing them from a safe distance and by doing so became more confident. Not to be afraid of snakes and then to actually love them took quite a while longer.
As I changed my heart and attitude towards snakes, so did they change their behaviour. They seemed to become friendlier and no longer raced away in an irrational and unpredictable way. They knew that they had nothing to fear and eventually came to ignore us altogether, including my dog Pax whom I had told to leave them alone.
Now we could watch them near the dock when they were hunting fish by diving to the bottom of the lake. We could even watch snakes mating on our dock, which had become their favourite spot. Here, in early summer during a mating ceremony that went on for hours a large female snake would lie intertwined with three or four smaller male snakes.
Snakes frequently occupied our dock now, where they would sunbathe for hours. One day, I wanted to sunbathe there, too. As I slowly walked down the steps towards the dock I saw a snake. The snake did not move and even when I passed; it seemed undisturbed.
Feeling a bit daring, I settled within a few steps of the snake. Nothing happened, and the snake remained at ease on its spot. This broke the ice, and from then on during many summers, sunbathing with a snake became quite natural on the dock. Sometimes both of us would doze off. Occasionally I would touch a snake with my finger, whereupon it would arch its back with pleasure. Snakes do not feel slimy as some people may think; to the contrary, they are soft to the touch.
I have the impression that snakes like people. This must create great confusion in them when they encounter fear and hate. Today I can walk on the land and hardly ever see snakes. They will not move at all, so I have to watch out not to step on one accidentally. All the snakes must know that I like and protect them. They even seem to recognize my steps. This became apparent to me when my friend Lynne came to visit. She was frantic about snakes, and to ease her concern I said that I would go in front of her when we walked around the lake, and there would be nothing to worry about.
After walking for a short distance, Lynne became confident and forgot that it would be better to go behind me. Suddenly, on a stretch where I had never seen a snake before, a big fat snake appeared in front of Lynne and rushed away. For an outsider, this must have been frightening. Before I could react, Lynne was hanging around my neck, full of fear and for a moment even forgetting proper language.
This incident, among many other examples, gave me the impression that fear actually attracts the animal one is afraid of. I already knew this to be true with dogs and cats, but it seems to apply to the whole animal kingdom. Animals can teach us to overcome fear when we recognize and accept their purposes.
A Healing Session with a Snake
Because I am always careful when felling trees, I was most surprised when a 12-metre dead elm tree accidentally landed on my left foot. Immediately my foot began swelling like a balloon. It was a miracle that it was not broken.
Three days later, my friend Joanna paid me a surprise visit. Joanna is a strong and practical person, 1.5 metres tall, always smiling with two big dimples. She is also a healer practicing laying on of hands. Joanna arrived on a beautiful summer day that was conducive to spending time together on the dock. She held her hand on my sore foot until the pain was almost gone.
Perhaps after an hour or two Joanna asked me, “Where are the snakes? I haven’t seen any.” In that very instant, I noticed a fairly large curled-up water snake motionless next to Joanna. I replied, “Just look to your left.” Joanna is not afraid of snakes—she only smiled when she saw it. I had the impression that this snake was part of our healing ceremony.
The sun was already casting longer shadows, and we were still on the dock with the snake. At this point, two men arrived from the forestry department to enquire if I had beavers. When Joanna and I got up to greet the two men on the elevated deck, the snake was still with us.
The men were puzzled, seeing a motionless snake next to us. I explained that this was a friendly snake. When I limped back down the seven steps to the dock, passing the snake to retrieve my teacup, the snake still did not move. This unusual sight made the men stare and make some funny comments. Only then did the snake begin to uncurl and gently slide into the water.
Snakes Are True Friends Now
During the next summer, I had three visitors from Germany—Karin, Ursula and Werner. They were fascinated to see a large water snake resting on the dock by the house. I mentioned that this snake was my friend and it often relaxed on the dock. From a distance, Werner took a photo of the snake. We then settled on the adjoining deck that is seven steps higher. Here we played a game I had invented and we were quite noisy with laughter. Only at the end of the game did we notice that the snake had come up to us from the dock and had settled within a couple of steps of our joyful party. Werner took another snake photo—now at a close range.
Even after my visitors left, the snake remained totally relaxed on the deck next to my living room, where I had never seen a snake before. Later, when I returned to the deck, the snake was gone. I saw only a smaller one resting below on the dock. For a while I lay down next to it, contemplating my snake journey that began with great fear and had such a happy ending. I am absolutely sure that my friendship with snakes will be a lasting one.
Although I have no experience with poisonous snakes, I cannot see any reason why they would respond any differently to positive and loving thoughts. If we encounter an aggressive snake, we should remember that it is the fear in us that makes the snake aggressive. We are the ones who determine what we will encounter.
—A recent story that happened since the publication of Magical Moon Lake
Many years ago, before I knew about the behaviour of snakes, I went hiking on a mountain in Utah. I encountered a fence with a sign that said, “Beyond this point are rattlesnakes.” I thought there could not be that many, so I carefully climbed across the fence. I was not even on the other side when I heard the rattle of a rattlesnake on which I had almost stepped. Boy, one does not know how quickly one can cross a fence. I was glad to be safe again.
Some years later, I received the book Kinship with all Life, by J. Allen Boone, which I highly recommend; here I read the story of a woman who tamed the most viciously behaving poisonous snakes. She did this in a very short time by respecting them and showering them with loving thoughts. It was said that rattlesnakes never attacked native people. Only people full of fear, ignorance and disrespect have deadly encounters.
It is great to read about overcoming fear, but the reality may be quite different.
I wanted to find out for myself what triggered my journey from fearing snakes to loving them. It would perhaps be more difficult if there were poisonous snakes, but where I live there are none.
My real test came in 2008, when I was in Australia, the country with the most poisonous snakes in the world. I was warned about the aggressive and poisonous Tiger snake. While I was in Tasmania and hiking alone in an amazing forest with trees up to 45 metres tall, suddenly, within three steps to my left, I noticed a very large shiny black snake. It was a Tiger snake and it was beautiful. Despite the warnings, I knew about the mentality of snakes so I had no fear; I talked to it about its beauty and sent genuine loving thoughts. I looked at it for a while. The snake was at ease. Eventually, it slowly moved away for about five metres and then rested under large fern nearby. What a wonderful feeling!
Magical Moon Lake has 168 pages filled with amazing animal experiences on Karl Backhaus’s land in Grey County. Read about nuthatches, porcupines, fish and many more, as well as how Karl naturally deals with “pest” species such as flies and ants.
To order a copy of Magical Moon Lake, you can contact Karl by calling (519) 794-3140 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The sold-out perfect-bound copy is available on special order for $22 plus shipping. Stapled copies are available for $13.00 plus shipping, or $10.00 plus shipping if you buy three or more copies.