Seeing the heron rise from Grenadier Pond and fly away, his huge wings flapping, is awe-inspiring. If I'm lucky, I see it once or twice each summer.
When except for that do I feel awe?
I felt awe the day the snake stared at me from the water.
My husband and I were vacationing in Prince Edward County. We had gone to a park on the water, though the water was actually fifty feet below the level of the park. We followed the steps down to the beach, which was covered with round and oval stones, and I led us over to an area of large flat rocks, where we could sit and look at the water.
Just as I reached the first flat rock, my husband about 20 feet behind me, a snake slid out from under it and raced to the water. I was startled but not frightened, and I was surprised that it had gone into the water. I hadn't expected that a snake would be water-friendly.
The snake had disappeared into the water, so we, a pair of well-fed, smug tourists, sat on the flat rock to look at the world around us. The water was smooth as glass. At the horizon the water and the sky were the same shade of grey, so the meeting point was not distinct. Water became sky became water became sky.
We turned and looked at the cliffs behind us, up where we had left our rental car. We looked over to the left, then to the right, seeing the curved shoreline and the trees that marched down the slope of the cliff toward the water.
Then we turned back and looked straight before us. I saw a stick standing straight up in the water. An odd sight. I didn't remember having seen it earlier. The stick didn't move. But I saw that this stick was thicker at the top. This was a stick with a head.
"My dear," I said, "is that a stick or a snake?"
We watched the "stick" and the snake watched us, unwavering. She stared directly at us from twenty feet away, standing, apparently, on the tip of her tail, as straight as a die, reaching her head skywards and watching us. Watching us.
And willing us to move, I finally decided.
"I think she wants us to change rocks," I said. We did. We moved over to the next flat rock, some 15 feet away, and we watched the stick/snake. She began slowly to lower herself into the water and then to move forward, always keeping her head just above the surface and always watching us.
At water's edge she continued on up over the rocky beach, sliding more quickly now, and then disappeared under her original home.
We never saw her again.
I have no doubt that she communicated with us. She told us, through her stare, what she wanted: she wanted her home back. We got the message. We didn't have to leave the beach. We had only to change rocks.
How could I not be in awe of this encounter?
And yet, several years later, when I had another chance meeting with a snake, in the Bahamas, I forgot what I had learned and I met this second snake with the fear and loathing with which we ignorant humans often react to snakes.
I was getting ready for bed. As I reached to close the blind at the window just above my bed, I noticed (not wearing my glasses) a something on the inside of the window screen. Still without glasses, I reached to touch it. Oh. A snake.
And I forgot awe. I forgot the origin of the serpent. I forgot goddesses. I called for help.