Along the spine of Dry Creek road, soft foothills have watched me grow for a lifetime. At least once a year I return to this place to see my family and let Jeb roam the creekbed where I once swam in summer.
Occasionally this place of my family roots makes its way into the landscape of my dreams. About a week ago I dreamt that I was walking along Dry Creek with Jeb at my side. Though the area rarely sees a sprinkling of snow dust, in my dream the ground was thick in a blanket of snow. We approached a curve in the road, the place where the asphalt cuts through a small hill. To the left a sacred fire was burning low in the soft whiteness. Smoke billowed up to an alter of a few animals. It was understood this was a ceremony conducted by a Native, a shaman, a medicine man, though no one was in sight.
This afternoon I’m back on Dry Creek, Jeb and I driving along the road – no snow – just golden hills with winter green grass beginning to peek from beneath tufts of brown. Suddenly I notice the shape of a snake in the road, unusual for this cold time of year when snakes usually hibernate. Intrigued, I pull over and Jeb and I begin to walk the road. As we approach, I realize I am traveling the path of my dream. Jeb by my side, the exact spot, right at the curve.
Here we see the long shape of a gopher snake, clearly deceased, with the story of its demise marked along its back. Jeb’s first sighting of a snake in real life, this close.
Later, I enjoy sharing my snapshots of the snake with family, all of them agreeing it is odd to see one this late in the year. I ponder the symbols: dreams of snow, a sacred ceremony connected to the land, a curve in the road, a snake out of season, shedding of skin…
Long after dark Jeb and I are once again driving back the way we had come. We wonder if a hawk or other bird may have come along and taken our snake friend for a meal. With our headlights blazing, we slow at the curve in the road and discover the long thin body glowing in our brights – the snake is still there. Leaning forward towards the windshield, we gaze then pass it slowly. As if on cue, the bright white underbelly of an owl swoops just above our car in the dark sky. It hovers in flight, flapping wild wings alongside us in some kind of mystical, night time omen.
What any of it means, I do not know. A cluster of wildlife sightings all in one bend in the road – dreaming and waking.
What would the Natives say? The zoologist? The poet?
Jeb says, “Cool!”
I’d say the same.