Sidewalk surprise

Sunny May afternoon. Warm, lazy. Neighborhood moderately quiet but for the occasional baby-like cry of young goats from a pen hidden in a snatch of mixed-woods across the street. They sound like little kids … which is exactly what they ARE …

Absolutely nothing is happening.

I will check the mail.


Patches of thick, furry moss nestled in the wide brick steps of the porch. Clean fragrance of mulch from the empty beds along the house. Sudden coolness on rounding the corner, where the sun casts the shadow of the house across the sidewalk—


Right in front of me, in my immediate path. If I hadn’t been looking down …

Two steps backward.

I am not a fan of snakes.

It’s little. The second of its kind I’ve seen. The first one appeared on this sidewalk months ago, belly-up, dead, when the old boxwoods were pulled out. I needed to know what kind of snake it was, so I researched it: Smooth earth snake. Lives in woodsy debris, usually underground (technical term: “fossorial”). Nonpoisonous. Very shy.

—This one isn’t moving at all. Is it dead, too?

—Do I really want to know?

I do.

Two steps forward, leaning over as far as I dare.

Almost imperceptibly, its sides rhythmically expand and contract.

It is breathing.

I have never seen a snake breathing.

But I don’t usually get close enough to determine such.

I wonder if it is scared of me.

I won’t harm it. This is a living thing, lying here on my sidewalk, breathing rather hard for a snake, I think.

It won’t harm me.

We’re just occupying the same shadow, breathing the same air.

I can see a dark lump through its translucent beige-gray skin, about halfway through its body. Is that part of the snake? Or something it ate?

Then …

I don’t expect anyone to believe this. I’m not completely sure that I do.

I hesitate to say. It sounds crazy.


A little light flickers inside the snake.

Just for a second or two.

A fluid-like glimmering, mid-snake, very near that dark lump.

—Am I dreaming?

I stare, unblinking, not sure I trust my eyes or my brain. Have I ever even heard of such a thing?

And then, one more glimmering of light, faint, in the tail region.

I did see it.


Is it just a reflective shimmer of sunlight?

But this snake lies wholly in the shadow of the house; the sun’s not shining on anything close by.

A reflection of something I am wearing, then?

But I am wearing no rings, no glittery flip flops. Only one fine, rose-gold chain on my right arm that I never remove (my son gave it to me), and it’s wholly in the shadow, too. Not catching the sunlight. Not casting it.

Furthermore, the glimmer came from inside the snake. It radiated only within the confines of its motionless body. Not on the sidewalk. Nowhere else.

—A trick of my eyes, then.

But my optometrist has never seen anything amiss with my eyes. Got a fabulous report at my last checkup in December: “No change in your vision. Everything looks great. See you next year!”

A migraine for me begins as a spot of light in my eyes; it grows until I can only see the outer edges of things.

But I don’t get migraines often, and am not getting one now.

Nor, to my knowledge, have I ever had a hallucination.

—I shall need proof, then. A picture.

My phone is in the house.

Stepping backward, I ease to the corner of the house, out of sight of the snake (well, at least until it’s out of my sight. Snakes don’t see well). I make a run for the porch steps, the front door, the bedroom where my phone is charging.

The snake has not moved by the time I return.

I wait for the longest time, phone poised, cued to video, but the glimmering doesn’t come again. I record a few seconds of the snake breathing. Zoomed, of course, from a comfortable distance.

Absolutely nothing is happening.

So I walk way around in the grass, giving the snake a wide berth. Short jaunt down the driveway to the mailbox, retrieving uninteresting, unimportant ephemera.

Back up the driveway to the sidewalk …

—The snake is gone.


—There in the mulch, just ahead of where it had been.

I try for several minutes more to capture some glowing, any glowing, on video, but the phenomenon is over. Whatever caused it has apparently conspired not to do so again, certainly not for one wishful human.

I do, however, get a bit of video of the snake’s tiny black tongue flickering — from a safe and comfortable distance.

I wonder if any neighbors have spotted me, if they’re wondering what in the heck I am doing, hunched over for so long here in my yard. But there’s nothing really stirring outside except those goats in their secluded pen, a meandering bee, birds in the distance, a random, rusty cock-a-doodle-doo from the rooster who lives up the street, as, in his mind, anything with ears to hear needs reminding he’s king of all times of day, not just the morning.

I have troubled this shy little snake enough. Time to let it be. Live and let live.

Trudging up the steps to my porch, wonder and hesitation stir my soul: I will write about this. I think. Or should I? How can one explain the inexplicable? How can one know what is really real? When “I saw it with my own eyes” isn’t exactly enough to drive away doubt? What about logic: Have earth snakes ever been known to glow? Is there a plausible scientific explanation? Bioluminescence is a real thing. In some eels, for example. Fireflies. Glow worms. Perhaps my snake ate one of these larvae—? Might that be the dark lump in its midsection? Perhaps some released phosphorescence traveled through its body, which is just transparent enough to reveal it. Or maybe this is a defense mechanism? A means of survival for a thing that usually lives underground? Did it ingest some compound in the soil that might give off a glow? Or did this snake simply, literally absorb some sunlight?

All I know is that I saw a light glimmering inside a rather translucent little earth snake. Twice. And that I am unaccustomed to seeing random light running along anything in shadows.

Not physically, anyway. Metaphorically I see light in the shadows all the time.

I sit rocking in my new porch chair. My thoughts sway back and forth, rolling over and over and over like paper in the wind … and I realize that my questioning awe is tinged, the tiniest bit, with something like sadness: I am not likely to ever see this again, let alone prove that I saw it. Some things are once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, one-shot-only golden glimpses, like the eagle I saw last spring, sitting huge and majestic by the side of the road. Not that I want to encounter another snake (any more, I am sure, than one wants to encounter me). No. Still not a fan. Not aiming to be a herpetologist. Although I could contact one and ask if earth snakes ever glow … what’s the risk, other than skepticism and dismissiveness?

I just want to know why. That is all. And am having to accept that I likely never will.

That glimmering … if nothing else, it means Aliveness. The little snake is alive. I am alive. For one moment, maybe, the life force acknowledged and honored itself …

For all I know, the snake saw the same glimmer in me.


27 thoughts on “Sidewalk surprise

  1. Observation, curiosity and philosophy all wrapped up in one. I am right with you on that pavement watching the snake (I am leery of them too), and experiencing the wonder of the “glow.” Maybe we all have a glow in us; maybe we need to look for that glow more.
    So gracefully written and seamless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah – yes, I think all living creatures have a “glow” that we sometimes fail to see and I can’t help but think, since the post, how humans especially fail to see it in one another … easier to find it in a snake … alas. But it really was a beautiful play of light, very brief, something I cannot fully convey. I will, as you say, be mindful of looking for it more … thank you for these words, Diane!


  2. Wow! I was completely transfixed this entire slice! You conveyed your internal monologue so powerfully, it felt as if I was actually thinking your thoughts (I, too, am not a snake fan!). The slight sadness you experienced at the end made me so grateful that you captured this beautiful moment through your writing. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sticking with the snake story, Meg, and for your lovely response. Who’d have thought about “beautiful” in connection to a snake?? Not I! Life and writing are so full of surprises just waiting to happen…


  3. Fran, this story is one that shares both descriptive features and the right amount of movement: pause, anticipation, resolve or not. – The ending is strong and leaves so much pondering on life. This is a fantastic slice of life-just an ordinary incident that leaves me wanting more story from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for these specific and positive words in response to the snake post, Carol – I hesitated to share the piece at first, as it sounds too strange to have happened (and it WAS strange) but there was also something beautiful about it. Furthermore – writing is about risk-taking and observations, right? How could I NOT write? Thank you for always speaking straight from your artist-poet-writer heart and mind, Carol; you can’t know how much I value every word!


  4. “Absolutely nothing is happening” made me think of my weekends lately and me checking the mailbox. I’ve experienced that feeling of stillness and boredom a lot, and I know I’ll miss it once life starts getting busy again. Maybe it’s not really boredom, but actually the freedom to do anything since there are no plans that have been made or deadlines to meet now. That feeling can also turn into a stressed feeling of thinking that I must to do something productive with this uninterrupted free time before it ends for good.
    I sit on my porch swing a lot, and one Saturday I decided to check the mailbox. I checked it again about an hour later just in case I missed the mailman when I went inside to get something to drink for those few seconds. I knew I didn’t miss him coming, but it was just something to do with my free time, even though I knew all I would receive was junk mail. 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post is captivating. I too sit,with nothing happening, more than I could ever have imagined at this age – maybe when I am 90..but not yet.
    Then, your description of mind, imagination, and nature interacting is just wonderful. Great post, perhaps the beginning of a great story, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sticking with the snake post, Anita! You know, I did think – have been thinking – there are so many ways this could be grafted into a story … I am going to have to play with that. 🙂


  6. Your ability to bring me with you, to feel the cascade of emotions as I read, is impeccable. First, I grinned a little because I know how you feel about snakes, and then… the light! The light was incredible. And for the record, I absolutely believe you because what more do we have than our own eyes? I loved this section, “All I know is that I saw a light glimmering inside a rather translucent little earth snake. Twice. And that I am unaccustomed to seeing random light running along anything in shadows./ Not physically, anyway. Metaphorically I see light in the shadows all the time.” and figured it would be my favourite – and then… the ending. Dagnabbit – made me tear up a little. Man oh man, your words are beautiful – even about a snake.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so hard to want an explanation and not to have one … yet that’s part of the allure, I think! I almost didn’t write or share this piece as it seems nearly too far-fetched to be real, even as it unfolded … but then I thought: It’s too interesting NOT to write about. Somewhere in this encounter I developed a level of appreciation for a type of creature I normally view with aversion … I was never afraid, not even when I first discovered it right in front of me on the sidewalk. The glimmering, that play of light, was beautiful. Never in a million years would I have imagined using that word related to a snake, even a small, shy one. Nor would I EVER have expected to write to stir up tears for a snake -! Thank you for the amazing gift of these words, Amanda. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. There is so much drive in this story! I just couldn’t stop reading 🙂 I have never seen a snake glimmering, but have tried to capture pictures or videos of wildlife recently and it is very hard to get them to do whatever intriguing thing again ha! I love the little tongue though

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is so much I love about this piece! The way you’ve captured the experience is just fantastic, as so many other commenters have said. Just wonderful.

    But it’s the event and your reaction that I love the most. First of all, there’s the opportunity you had to experience something wild, albeit not in its typical habitat. That, in and of itself, is a blessing that many rarely experience. Then, there’s your reaction. I understand the cultural bias many people have against snakes, but I don’t always understand irrational fears (good thing I don’t have any–ha!). Snakes are incredible creatures (can you tell I’m a fan?) that so often get a bad rap. You recognized the relative safety of your situation and you observed…oh, you observed!

    Earth snakes do have a line of light-colored scales that run the length of their bodies. I do not mean to explain what you saw, but it’s possible that you were seeing the exposure of those light-colored scales because of the lump (probably a recent meal) and the expansion and contraction of the snake’s body as it breathed: “fluid-like glimmering.” It’s just a possibility. Regardless, the experience was–according to your description–certainly memorable.

    Your last four paragraphs brought me, as an environmental educator, nearly to tears. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an amazing response, from the perspective of a snake fan/environmental educator! Never dreamed the post might stir tears – honest. The glimmering… it reminded me of a child’s glow stick or glow necklace, where the substance sometimes slides through the tube, hence my use of the word “fluid.” Hard to convey what it looked like. It lingered only a second and faded. I was ready at first to dismiss it as reflection until I realized it was only in the snake. Then – what could it be reflecting?? Such a brief and captivating thing. I saw the previous snake’s pale belly when it appeared dead on my sidewalk. Never even heard of an earth snake before that one. I really thought it was some kind of big worm (a very little snake, smaller than my glimmering one) until I saw those tiny, perfect scales you describe. I would love to know what caused the living snake’s strange glimmer – it did rather undulate. Can you see the dark lump around the midsection of the snake in the leading photo?? I feel sure that was dinner.

      Thank you for every one of your wonderful words here, Tim – I deeply appreciate them.


  9. There is nothing wrong with your eyes or senses since that was definitely a snake. ACK! I would’ve ran back into the house. Love that you watched, wondered, and waited. You are braver than I would’ve been. (NOTE: My husband found a snake in our old backyard. We called our neighbors. Their son, who was 10 at the time, took care of it — happily — for us. That’s right, the late-30’s couple was too afraid to do it ourselves!)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fran, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time trying to figure out what might have caused the glow. My guess was that he swallowed a small flashlight!
    I loved how you ended this post – you are a light force to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, I did read about a snake that was stealing eggs from a chicken coop; it was fooled by old light bulbs and swallowed those! I don’t know what the little lump was in the snake but really suspect it was a bug, maybe a glow worm larvae … I so wish I had a video of the glimmering. How I treasure your words, Christine – thank you so much. ❤


  11. Fran, there is a Faye Weldon expression that goes, ‘Nothing happens, and nothing happens and then everything happens.’ Your post explodes into a wonderful swirling mix of thought and observance. A small moment with a snake became something quite memorable. You provide ample evidence that we must remain ready to receive these magic moments that enter our days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really was an odd, magic moment – and you are right; we must remain open. The moments can’t come if we close ourselves off. They often come in the most unexpected of ways. Thank you, Alan.


  12. Once again you made me keep reading and reading, even while my dog was begging me to let him out. I had to know what happened. I smiled at the end because I can see your glow.
    I am not a fan of snakes at all. We saw one a few weekends ago with my 17 month old grandson. It was dead definitely. Luckily my husband was with me to check. Our neighbors removed the dead snake and the net that it had gotten tangled into, but Leo remembers. Now when we walk near the base of the tree, he points and says, “Gone.” And I say, “Yes, the snake is gone.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad you enjoyed reading even though you are not a fan of snakes … something in me feels a little sorry for these little earth snakes, though. Inexplicably. I wonder if Leo will always remember that first sight of a snake and be fascinated by how young he was at the making of this memory!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you Fran. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if , when a person had an inspiration, an epiphany, someone near them could see a glimmer of light within? We talk about “light bulb moments’ in my classroom, but I like the idea of that visible glimmer. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for bearing with the story of the little glimmering snake! Oh yes, how great it would be if we could actually see the glimmer of inspiration running through one another. Sometimes the kids’ faces do light up – love those “aha!” moments – what teaching is all about.


  14. Your wanting to know why your snake was glowing reminds me of some of the reactions I got to my “Wonder Wall” in the library, when I posted pictures without details or an explanation. The purpose of the pictures was to evoke wondering questions, but I still got a lot of “Is it a…?” guesses. On a related note, a third grade teacher on my campus had a poetry prompt of “I wonder about…”, and a significant number of students couldn’t complete the poem…they had lost their sense of wonder, already. I’m glad you were willing to sit in your state of wonder for a bit, and accept the unknowing for now.

    Liked by 1 person

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