Snakes in the water

electric pole

“Hello Sirs, I’m very sorry for my post,” said the ghost in the machine-generated blog comment as a prelude to its list of commercial links. Or maybe, indeed, these were the words of a truly repentant soul typing spam for pennies somewhere in the global South, where a penny might actually still suffice to buy someone’s thoughts.

At any rate, that was the last thing I read this morning before abandoning my blog for the fog, which was rapidly burning off. The field was dotted with the first spider webs of spring.

junction box

“What exactly do you call that thing?” I asked my dad just now. “A junction box, I guess,” he said. It’s where the telephone cable divides in eight, like the legs of a spider. I went back down to the other house, and he signalled me a moment later: “Phone call!”

You have to understand — I rarely ever get any phone calls. But speak of the devil, and it rings. A lady from the newspaper was calling to verify that I was the author of a letter sent in under my name two weeks before. “Could you tell me the subject of your letter please?”

I could barely remember. “Uh, wind plants?” I ventured. “That’s right!” she said, sounding as pleased as a game show host.

garter snakes

On my way back down the hill, I noticed a knot of garter snakes in the old well. Clearly not a mating ball, I thought, but it didn’t seem as if they’d need to bunch up for warmth today, either — it was 65 degrees and sunny by this time. Maybe they were just feeling sociable.

At my approach, they all started going off in different directions, and a few dropped into the water and began swimming in circles. It’s always such a surprise to see a snake swim. You wouldn’t think them capable of any bouyancy at all.

spicebush blossoms 2

“If I lived here, I’d set up an easel and just paint,” said a visitor on Saturday. But I don’t just live here — I grew up here, and that can make it hard to see things as an artist should, always at a bit of a remove. Ever since that remark, though, I’ve been looking at things with canvas in mind. Would this be worth the time, the trouble? Would it look good on a gallery wall?

It’s funny how a few casual words can lodge in the memory and bring about a subtle shift in outlook. We tend to think of communication as a kind of transaction, I think, with messages analogous to currency, inert, possessing only whatever arbitrary values we assign them. A convenient view, designed to keep the myth of the sovereign individual high and dry.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

16 Comments


  1. Well, I was just thinking as I was reading, before I got to the second to last paragraph that these images look painterly, especially the first two and most of all the last one! Great eye and photo work!

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  2. I vote for the last two
    snakes and vine
    for gallery walls

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  3. You do need a somewhat different “eye” for canvas (or even sketching) than for photos, just because of the time element. A momentary scene like those snakes would be pretty tough to draw, much less paint, from life! Even the vine image benefits from the camera’s deluge of detail – getting that lighting right would be pretty tough “by hand”, and that variegated stone surface could be a heartbreaker….

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  4. marja-leena – You’re too kind.

    Teju – You should see a mating ball – that’ll really raise the hair on the back of your neck. If I see one again, I’ll try and shoot a video for y’all.

    suzanne – I wasn’t as fond of the next-to-last photo for some reason – maybe ’cause the sun was too high and it was hard to get the kind of shadows I like. But it’s beginning to grow on me.

    David – I’m sure you’re right. Of course, a lot of wildlife painters do paint from photos these days, which is respectable enough I guess – i mean, it beats painting from the freshly killed critter, a la Audubon. But I am totally in awe of those who are able to paint from life.

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  5. I like what you did with the spicebush. I was looking at them in the woods the other day and wondering how to get a nice photo – the stone wall and dark space behind the branches make them stand out nicely.

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  6. Thanks. I planted that one, actually – they transplant quite easily when small.

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  7. Snakes: what flew into my mind was the rod of Moses, flung down–and all those sorcerors, flinging down theirs!

    I love the last one…

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  8. …and then later using the same snake/rod to part the Red Sea. Yes.

    Thanks.

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  9. The scariest swimming snake I ever saw was in a small pond between sand dunes out on Pensacola Beach. It was a huge rattlesnake, swimming fast, an awesome sight in its vigor and power. I began to back up (toward our old boat). True to form, the adolescent boy emerged in my husband, as he picked up small stones to chunk in the water near the snake. . .

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  10. Wow. And it really must make them vulnerable, too – obviously they can’t strike from a prone position, let alone from the water. (Though that boy was probably still scared nearly shitless.)

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  11. they can’t strike from a prone position, let alone from the water.

    Umm, I really wouldn’t count on either of those! Plenty of fish strike at insects from the water, and a snake’s form must give it hella “traction” (agility) underwater. And even assuming that by “prone” you mean “stretched lengthwise”, well that can change real fast!

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  12. I was only speaking about timber rattlesnakes, which I know a little bit about. They do need to strike from a coiled position. Cottonmouths, though (for example) can leap right into your boat and fuck you up, so I’ve read.

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  13. I’m a little late here, but I really love that first photo, the one of the telephone pole. The bleached blue descending to white and charcoal in surprising sequence, and the granular wavy ground. I usually feel an active dislike for verticals in the middle of a composition, but this one overcomes it, maybe beecause so many interesting lines intersect with it. (But don’t ever put another vertical in the middle of a composition again.)

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  14. Hi Richard – Lateness is never a problem. I still get comments on posts that over a year old, now and then.

    I’m glad to hear that you like that photo as a composition, but please believe me when I tell you that I have no interest in advancing beyond my current status as a snapshooter and casual user of Photoshop. I reserve the right to post corny or obvious compositions, blurry photos (like the one of the garter snakes), or even photos of my nose hairs if the mood strikes me. I’m just having fun here! I’d strongly advise against taking anything I post too seriously, even (or especially) if the tone happens to be one of high seriousness. (But of course feel free to tell me when you don’t like something. It might or might not make a difference.)

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