SHHHHHHH…..

Mubarak out, Mubarak out. I had thought he would leave on my birthday but he’s hanging on. Hoped my birthday would become synonymous with revolution: street cred. Instead I’m left with the neo-fascist Charles Lindbergh and Alice Cooper with whom I share my birthday. Thank God for Rosa Parks.

On my birthday, a large coyote came within 20ft of my front door. She bounded off when I came out. She looked like a wolf. From a safe distance she stopped and watched me.

Sometimes I want to shut myself away in a Zen monastery like Leonard Cohen did. Ah but then I’d miss out on the next generation iPad and I’m sure they wouldn’t show the football in the meditation hall.

Yesterday I went hiking in the hills of Topanga with Kate. It was the first really hot day this winter. I said to Kate that there might be some snakes waking with the heat. I swear, less than one minute later there’s this incredible “SHHHHHH” sound. It seems to come from all around us. An instant spike of adrenalin. Rattlesnake. The sound is so startling that Kate bolts past it like a startled deer, passing within 3ft of it. Now I’m on one side of it and Kate’s on the other. If we want to hook up without passing the snake it’s a two mile hike. We each take a step back from the snake and immediately the sound stops.

“How far do you think they can strike?” I ask.

“I don’t know but I reckon they can spring pretty far.”

I start to move a half step forward. On comes the white noise. It’s unnerving. It’s meant to be.

I start to move Chi Gung slowly. So slowly I hope it doesn’t notice. Trying to keep as far from it as possible, my back’s pressed up against the bushes. Half of me is scared, half of me is buzzing. I take 10 minutes to get parallel with it. The next bit brings me right in front of its strike zone and I will be caught in no mans land not knowing whether to go forward or back. I pause for a few minutes to gather my nerve.

When I get directly in front of it, maybe 4 or 5 feet away the back of its coils lift in preparation to strike. Oh shit. I feel the sweat spreading from my armpits. I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt. The ground in front of me is so rocky and jagged if I run I’m bound to fall. Its rattle is held vertically aloft. It has fourteen segments which I think means it’s 14 years old. It’s a big snake. Beautiful markings. Black, brown and cream. Diamond headed. I think to myself that’s where those eastern tiling patterns come from. I try to remember what I know of rattlesnakes.

Last year a man came to re-locate a snake we found outside our open bedroom door. The night before I had dreamt of a snake. Biting my son. Woke with a jump. Wrote down “buy anti-venom” on a stickie. And there it was the next morning. The snake man told us snakes see infra-red; the heat pattern of our bodies. If it bites me it uses up its venom and doesn’t get to eat for 2 weeks until it can produce more. Well that’s reassuring; at least it will have some instant Karma. He told us about this man in Florida, Bill Haast who has been injecting himself with snake venom since the 1950’s. He’s in his 90’s, looks 60 and is incredibly strong and healthy. He’s been bitten over 170 times by snakes and is virtually immune.

I remember in Morocco a snake charmer “dropped” his cobra around my neck, trying to intimidate money out of me. Everybody at the cafe fled. I just sat there. I remember looking down at it around my neck and noting it smelt of chicken. The man jumped back in, grabbed it and was gone. Three minutes later a bead of sweat trickled over my skin where the snake had been and I leapt up. Delayed reaction.

I always thought Rattlesnakes are ok because they warn you with their sound. They don’t want to bite you. Now I can hear that the rattle is not just a warning. It disorientates and freezes before a strike.

I talk to the snake tell it how beautiful it is, sing to it: The Western School of Snake Charming. I told it we meant no harm, and I kid you not, the sound dried, the coils dropped. It looked like it fell asleep!

Kate calls me Dr Doolittle. Says that I dance like a snake. That it recognised kin.

A coyote and a snake. Happy Birthday; should be a good year.

12 Comments to SHHHHHHH…..

  1. Pedro del Campo's Gravatar Pedro del Campo
    Feb 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Happy Belated Birthday!!! Enjoy your time with your loved ones and live every day of your life as your last one.
    I already had the amazing chance to see you at Webster Hall in New York, my current location. Now, I will see you guys playing again in Chile, my native country. I hope you will enjoy your time over there, nice people, gorgeous landscapes.
    Please let me know if you need anything, and if there’s anything i can help you just write me.

    Best and have a great year.
    Pedro

  2. nic's Gravatar nic
    Feb 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    cool Dr Doolittle – something in common with me, I am the official cat whisperer in the veterinary practice where I work 😉
    Cool birthday – can we come next year?

  3. Kay's Gravatar Kay
    Feb 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Wow – thanks for sharing that – only ever seen adders and grass snakes in the wild, don’t know how I’d cope with a venomous one – hope I wouldn’t panic! Sounds like that story could be the subject of one of your poems! x

  4. matthew's Gravatar matthew
    Feb 9, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I bet you felt so alive in those few minutes. You should write more tim, I felt compelled to read it as the writing flowed effortlessly. Looking forward to seeing you at the appollo!

  5. Dave's Gravatar Dave
    Feb 10, 2011 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    love that in your dread and fear you see the beauty of the snake. can’t wait to see your solo/collaboration gigs. nice outlook

  6. Emily's Gravatar Emily
    Feb 10, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    Clearly, you were going to be just fine since you were here on your brand spanking new website to write about it but I had to pause while reading this entry in hopes it ended well! I have a phobia of snakes. Love that you danced and sang for it. Glad that trick worked.

    I hope it is a wonderful year for you.

  7. Martin's Gravatar Martin
    Feb 10, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Twenty years back, I walked through the Joshua Tree. The Information Center gave me and my compadres a leaflet detailing wildlife to watch out for, which included golden eagles, road runners (damn, they are small) and rattlesnakes. My famous last words were, “they’re not going to let the public walk thru a place where there are rattlesnakes”. They did. We did. Had all the same emotions as you describe. Fortunately I had a long zoomy lens on my camera and got a picture of our friend. And then left. In a hurry.

    See you in Leeds in April. I was at the VIP in Leeds in December, hanging around at the back. The gig was as good as anything you guys have ever done.

  8. Filipa Cruz's Gravatar Filipa Cruz
    Feb 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Love from Portugal, we are hopping to see you soon!

  9. Lou Purplefairy's Gravatar Lou Purplefairy
    Feb 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    wow. what a fantastic birthday experience.
    I have never met a snake before so I don’t know what i would do if I did, probably the same as you, freeze and shit my pants.
    I can understand the hypnosis a snake can put you under, watching it as it watches you, tasting the air with its forked tongue, scanning you, whilst trying to hide its own fear of humans. Coiling ready to strike in defence, refusing to be the on to live on its knees ( if it had any) a real warrior energy about it, a real survivor in a world where it is hated, persecuted and is misunderstood.
    I can relate to the coyote experience though, not with a coyote, but with a fox.
    Whilst out wandering and chatting to the trees in the woods I frequent in Devon, I came face to face with a huge male fox, wide eyed with a bushy tail.
    We two just stopped, froze and stared each other out.
    Our souls eyes each other up, weighing up the risk factors as to who was going to run first.
    I felt a sense of peace and mutual respect from it, as it recognised I was as startled as it was, and that I meant it no harm.
    I shifted my gaze to allow the fox to keep its pride and to retreat with its dignity, not wanting to move and lose the moment, where woman and fox meet on a soul level. Eye contact with any animal is very confrontational, and for territorial animals like a fox, especially a male, its a real stand off moment. If I had continued to stare back, I would have caused it to feel that it had lost its sense of worth, because it would have had to back down, and it may have started to fail in its hunt and ultimately become weaker. I was on its turf, a stranger, so I remembered my manners and backed down out of respect for a creature of the forest I was in.
    When I glanced back up, I saw it look back at me as it trotted off behind a tree, and felt it say “thank you”
    I replied with a smile that said, “don’t worry, I wont tell your friends”.
    And then it was gone, and I was alone in the woods again with just the trees and birds for company :)

    here’s to all creatures, long may they celebrate life with us.
    Happy Birthday , Tim :)

  10. garyyy's Gravatar garyyy
    Mar 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    glad you got away unhurt..like that you sang to it, bodes well that mr snake liked your new material! though i expect he asked for the usual encor of ‘sit down’…
    stay safe, looking forward to seeing you and your band at camridge in april.

  11. Mar 3, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Messing with rattlesnakes? Is that technospeak for dancing with the devil or is it the new way to let off steam between gigs?

    You won’t know to leave them alone until they get you, and hopefully, they’ll leave you alone. If they can see infrared, they can see the human soul, and if your soul is oriented towards leaving them alone, perhaps they’ll see that and reciprocate.

  12. Nick's Gravatar Nick
    Mar 4, 2011 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    A great way to live life. One of the most fulfilling things about living “abroad” is coming into contact with animals that you think only behind the great Sir David A. doing their thing. Are coyotes as awesome as wolves? Touching and communicating with wolves was one of the high points of my life so far. Vultures are impressive too. Saw the blog comment about your bad Spanish. If you ever want any help with the language, just ask. By the way, you forgot Spain on your tour (again). What have the Greeks got that we haven’t? OK, ouzo and tsasiki but apart from that.

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