Friday, July 31, 2009

The Serpent's Redemption

My faithful few followers, I have been unfaithful myself in updating my blog, but only because I have been working on another piece of writing (and spending delicious moments sitting in the swing on the front porch, reading Pat Conroy's soon-to-be-released South of Broad). So--this essay that has been rattling (oh ha ha--an interesting choice of words) around in my head for a year has finally been completed. I wanted to share the first three paragraphs with you (not the entire essay, as it is 5,000 words--14 pages double spaced). If you are truly interested in reading the essay in its entirety, I do need a couple of people to find the typos that I'm sure have eluded me, so email me at and let me know; I'll email you an attachment in MSWord. And do let me know what you think of this little bit....

It is ironic that one of the common names of Crotalus Oreganus Helleric, a type of rattlesnake found in the Southwest, is “diamondback,” since most of us, when diamonds are mentioned, imagine something rare and strikingly beautiful, not a creature we think of as diabolical, quick to strike and deadly in its intentions. The name refers to the pattern of color on the snake’s skin, though the Arizona baseball team which uses the diamondback as its name and mascot certainly hopes to conjure the same intimidation we feel toward the character of the snake, not its color.
Indeed, rattlesnakes are plentiful in Arizona, and one can never be too cautious.

A case in point would be that of Erec Toso, author of Zero at the Bone. Toso, a university professor, is seemingly a man of great humanity, who loves dogs and cats, his kids and his wife, and who tries to live peaceably with all creatures. He describes in his book, however, his experience in walking across his yard one evening at dusk, returning from a summer swim with his boys, his foot rendered all too vulnerable by the sandals he wore. Even in the torturous grip of pain, as doctors huddled around his hospital bed discussing whether or not to amputate his putrid leg, Toso forgave the snake.

I read Erec Toso’s book shortly after moving to a cabin in the San Gabriel mountains of California, where Southern Pacific rattlesnakes live among the rocks and boulders, and I found myself ruminating on this moral dilemma we find ourselves in when we seek solitude, a place outside the pale of hectic, everyday populations. I came to the mountains to escape the noise, litter and cruelty that comes with living too close to Los Angeles. But here in the mountains there are other threats, and if I am encroaching on the “wild” aspect of wilderness, shouldn’t I simply accept my role as the intruder and suffer the consequences? I did not know if, like Toso, I could be so forgiving, and I found myself obsessing on the threat of snakes… which is probably what saved me.


  1. Oh, what a tease. That last line -- "I found myself obsessing on the threat of snakes… which is probably what saved me" -- well, who wouldn't want to read the rest of the story? If you send me the manuscript, I will gladly read it ... and I will even proofread it too. I'm curious. Were they able to save Toso's leg? I know people who have been bitten but it never got that bad, thankfully.

  2. Yes, Erec's leg was saved, but the mental anguish he endured sent him down a road that was difficult to return from. His book is a memoir which includes his physical and psychological recovery.

    I'll send you the ms. via email. Thanks for your interest, JP!