Friday, December 4, 2009

Of Snakes and Servers

"There's a snake out there," said Ruth, "a rattle snake!" Looking at her carefully, I tried to guage Ruth's sincerity. After hiring her as a server at Twin Rocks Cafe, I had come to understand that she was a fun-loving character and not above jerking my chain. I vividly recall the spring day in 2002 when she walked in and applied for for a job. "I will be the best server you've ever had," she proclaimed. We hired her on the spot and never regretted the decision. When it came to pranks, however, Ruth was extremely imaginative. Focusing on her cornflower blue eyes, and looking for any hint of deception, I asked, "Seriously?" "Yes,"she said, "seriously!" I could tell by the urgency in her voice, and the disquieted look in her eyes, that Ruth was indeed sincere.

Lorraine Black with her Snake Basket.

Ruth pointed out the back door of the kitchen and said, "I was taking out the trash and heard it rattle; right by the wall!" I grabbed a broom and walked out the door into the inky blackness. Twin Rocks Cafe is built into the talus slope, near the slick rock. Exiting the kitchen door lands you on a sidewalk heading east between the back of the building and a narrow access road. There is a concrete retaining wall that starts out about three feet high and in about twelve feet tapers down to eighteen inches. The access road rests about ten inches below the top of the wall, creating a shadowed area. According to Ruth, somewhere on the other side of that wall was a poisonous serpent.

It was one of those deep, dark summer nights with no moon, and the crystalline stars above the towering bluffs provided no help when it came to illuminating the forbidding shadows. The day had been hot and was still warm, even at 11:00 p.m. The air was dry and the breeze nonexistent. I stepped to the wall and began to probe the shadows with the broom handle. I was still sweating from mopping the dining room floor and the suspense of what might be on the far side of that wall was not helping. About half way down the wall I discovered the problem. Something began buzzing like a turbo charged bumble bee. Even though I was half expecting it, the darn thing still scared the heck out of me and I jumped back.

What I did not immediately realize was that Ruth had followed me out the back door and was right behind me the whole time. When I backed into her, she screamed like a mashed cat and shoved me back in the direction of the fanged one. Although she was slight, I quickly discovered she was also quite strong. I do not know if it was the rush of adrenalin or something else, but when Ruth pushed me in the direction of that snake, I went. I did not want to go anywhere near that thing, but I had no choice. The combination of discovering a viper in our midst, backing into a screaming banshee and being shoved into the abyss upset me.

I am not sure whether I screamed, but the cooks watching from the safety of the kitchen swear I did. What I know for sure is that I fell to the concrete sidewalk and did a reverse crab walk back towards the now retreating Ruth and a door full of shouting and laughing cooks. When I hit the threshold I regained my feet, turned to Ruth and said something like, "Doggone it Ruth, that was just not nice!" Ruth apologized, but refused to go out the door until the reptile had been dispatched. The rest of the staff agreed whole heartedly. When I finally regained my composure, I secured a shovel and a flashlight. The staff we maintained (mostly of Navajo persuasion) reminded me not to hurt the snake and that doing so would bring about disastrous repercussions. I assured them I was well aware of the snake's power, and would not harm it.

Navajo mythology tells us that Monster Slayer is credited with presenting Snake with witch medicine. Snake, being naked and with no place to put it, placed the evil brew in his mouth for safe keeping. That is why snakes are poisonous. Snakes are considered sacred and have their own prayer sticks and corresponding songs and ceremonies. Snake people were prominent players in the emergence of the Navajo from the fourth world, they are believed to have held back the flood waters long enough for the others to escape. In the Windway ceremony we see the power of Great Snake and his relationship to Lightning, Thunder and Wind. Medicinally, the myth and chant of the Windway help cure "snake infection," which includes a whole host of illnesses. Mythologically, the chant warns against the violation of ancient Navajo codes, which include a prohibition against ignoring the dominion of Great Snake. The connection between Great Snake and his representatives on earth (that is, all snakes) should be noted, as well as the tie between Great Snake, Thunder and Lightning.

Great Snake's retributive power derives from being able to call forth Thunder and Lightning. Symbolically, Snake, Lightning and Arrow are closely related. In sandpaintings, the two-headed arrow looks like lightning. Snakes, which are often designed as zigzags, or lightning-like motifs, are sometimes shown with lightning coming from their mouths. Navajo mythology often depicts the snake as a link between earth and sky. The Feathered Serpent (part bird, part snake) is perhaps one of the oldest archetypes of this ancient union. It is interesting to note that in Navajo sandpaintings the marking on Snake's back are a symbol for brotherhood, again emphasizing the positive link between the worlds of earth and sky, man and reptile. Navajo mythology shows the positive power of Snake, Thunder, Lightning and Wind. It also shows how, when human transgression is present, these forces work against human will and become detrimental.

The snake at the back of the cafe was not very big, maybe a foot long and half an inch thick. He was angry, full of piss and vinegar and itching for a fight. I was reminded of a quote I once read by Mark Twain, one that I also attribute to my son Spenser and his attitude towards life. It goes like this, "It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog,". . . or snake in this case. I knew these critters were highly venomous, so I kept my distance, gently picking it up with the blade of the shovel and carrying it over the hill and far away. As I set it down, I looked around to see if I was being watched. There was no one in sight. In the way of the Navajo, I chastised brother snake for coming to town and causing such a commotion. The reptile, ignoring my tirade, crawled under a large boulder. Fortunately, we have not seen him since.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and The Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

No comments: