Friday, March 24, 2017
Snake in the grass, alas
Lest you think it’s all benign in the tropics, all garish birds dazzling flowers mystical fruits, and beans, let me disabuse you. One day we went with Minor (gardener and very helpful person) to the top of the Aquiares waterfall, (yes, that famous waterfall, the cover-waterfall of the 2007 Tropical Cataracts Illustrated pin-up Issue).
Famous waterfall or not, I started thinking about that scene in The Mission, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Stepping carefully, clutching tree trunks and vines so as not to slip on the path down from the coffee trees to the shimmering pool at the top of the cataract, all I could think about was Robert de Niro, the atoning slaver hidalgo, struggling up the face of a Paraguayan cataract, weighed down by his fancy Spanish armor.
The history of this, and every other continent, is replete with stories of men and woman doing brave things and crazy things, which I never would or could do. But I think about them constantly: the waterfalls I will neither scale nor plunge down, the alligators I will not wrestle, the poison arrows I will not dodge, the deserts I will not cross, the mountains I will not ascend…Why do I think so constantly about the physical challenges I shirk? Years of therapy and there is still no definitive answer. But I know that standing on a rock overlooking the Aquiares waterfall and leaning over to gaze on the plummeting cataract, I imagined my alternative self: hopping into a hand-hewn kayak, approaching the rim, catching some air and then dashing to the pool and rocks below.
So when young man emerged from the foliage behind us with a snake wrapped around his arm, I started imagining that I was not undone.
“No es venenoso,” Minor said. “And besides, it’s a baby.”
CSB asked me what kind of snake it was. I said I didn’t know, but that Minor said it wasn’t poisonous.
The young man had the snake wrapped around his arm; he very graciously he asked me if I wanted to hold it.
Minor also thought that holding the snake was an excellent idea. He told me that my nephew, Christian, had been down here a few weeks ago and very much hoped to see a snake but had not been so lucky. I assured him I would send a picture of the snake to Christian, with some sort of gloating commentary.
I asked Minor what this snake was called, and he told me the local name was acorro. This meant nothing to me, but perhaps I misheard. He said that this type of snake captured its prey and then squeezed. He used the Spanish verb exprimer, meaning squeeze, which I didn’t immediately understand.
Later, I sent a photo of the snake to my nephew and also to son-in-law, a philosophy professor who was an amateur herpetologist as a child.
My son-in-law wrote back, “Cool! That's a red tailed boa. I had two of them as pets!”
While the boa may – technically - not be poisonous, their bite can be painful to humans. Also, they hiss when annoyed. And of course, they constrict their prey. They squeeze until blood flow to the heart and brain is cut off. After that, they eat the prey and then spend several days digesting.