I happen upon a long black snake lying across the trail, a black rat snake. He’s one of the good guys. I love to see them in my woods. He sprawls across the path, body twisted into every crevice in the ground, looking every bit like a long dark stick lying on the trail.

I freeze when I see him, not wanting to disturb his nap. His head jerks slightly when he notices me. Slowly his long body unkinks and straightens as he calmly slithers off the side of the trail and begins to weave his way up a nearby tree trunk.

I am able to move in close and observe him as he smoothly slides up the tree only a few feet in front of me. I watch mesmerized by the fluid waves of his ribs moving in synchronicity, defying gravity, propelling his body upward along the bark.

I can see his eyes fixed on me, watching to confirm I do not venture too near. But I am aware how far his personal comfort line extends. I do not cross it.

I feel honored that he continues to move calmly, slowly with no fear of my presence. I’ve unintentionally startled snakes on the trail. Alarmed black rat snakes can emit a sharp rattling sound; perhaps they have evolved to imitate their feared rattlesnake cousins. They quickly coil their bodies backward, ready to strike at the intruder if needed. But they aren’t aggressive, preferring to slither away if possible. I always make sure that option is available.

But I love having them around. Black rat snakes eat rats and mice and even will often kill the dreaded rattlesnakes. So I allow them their space and admire their fascinating beauty.

This particular fellow has allowed me to come very close, much closer than I would dare to approach a nervous black snake. I can feel his calmness, his tentative acceptance of me in this space in this moment… as long as I move slowly, make no risky motions. The two of us share a silent agreement for the fifteen minutes I stand there observing him.

Much of the time when we encounter wildlife in the woods, they are jumping all over themselves trying to get away from us. So to mutually share space with this amazing creature is quite a gift. And my woods are full of them, these gifts, little love notes from God as I immerse myself in his presence on my prayer walks.