I weeded the herb garden today, a cool place in the morning’s high-90s heat. We built this herb bed out of redstone slabs two years ago in the hope that raising the soil in stone with landscaping cloth underneath would impede the prairie grass that invades all things perennial on our farm. So far, so good; the weeds are mainly annual dandelions and thistles.
In this bed we grow our farm favorites: chamomile, tall and short oreganos, tarragon, lavender, catmint, Mexican mint, and spearmint, with a little horehound and hyssop thrown in. A whiff of mint while weeding reminds me of my grandparents’ farm, where peppermint grew in a cement crack under the outdoor spigot of the farmhouse. Because we vacationed there throughout my childhood, mint always smells like summer to me.
While I weed, I keep an eye out for snakes that might be hiding from the heat between stones or in the tall grass around the perimeter of the bed. I’m looking for snakes these days because last week I almost stepped on a particularly colorful snake curled along the step inside the greenhouse.
Yellow with rectangular burgundy splotches, the snake slithered its four-foot length down behind the clay pots on a nearby shelf at my scream. Later it emerged outside the adjoining community room, where I was able to take a few photos with which to identify it. A corn snake, I think; I’ve sent the photos to our county expert for further ID.
Two years ago I startled a five-foot bull snake on the same step, or rather it startled me. Large snakes aren’t unusual out here, especially after rainy springs since rain brings tall grass that brings mice that bring snakes. My yellow and burgundy snake was exceptionally vibrant so it may have just shed its skin. I searched the greenhouse for the remains but found only the S tracked in the dirt where the snake had fled.
A friend tells me that snakes are an omen of birth or re-birth, which seems right this summer as John and I both initiate new ventures. We’re both looking ahead to a time when we can move on from our current careers by trying to figure out how best to use our skills toward furthering our own interests.
But moving ahead means leaving something behind as well, just as the snake must shed its old, faded skin to reveal its most brilliant colors. It’s the leaving behind that seems difficult for me, especially at 51.
I don’t know whether a snake notices its skin-sloughing or just glides out of its tired skin as it travels forward, but this shedding is necessary for its growth. What emerges glistens in new light. Perhaps that’s the lesson of the snake for me: keep moving and the old will simply drop away. Keep moving and the old will soon be left behind.