Housatonic — Camp had been closed for nearly a month as I mowed the last field of the year. The day was clearer than cloudy; sunny splotches lighted the grass.
I stirred the John Deere around the field in smaller and smaller circles, shooting the mowings out toward the edges so cut grass wouldn’t lay over itself and die matted by snow over the winter.
As the circles tightened, I saw a dark lump in the middle of a sunny patch. There’s been crows and moles ripping up dead crabgrass. I figured the thing was some of their leavings. I’d scatter it in my next pass.
But instead of a lump of torn up grass and mud, a thick, old black snake basked in his own spot of warmth.
I pulled up a few feet from him as he lay like a short stack of bicycle tires. Four feet long if he was an inch, he lay still and not quite shiny in his own little acre of sun.
Warm, comfortable, and thus a feeling a little like sunning myself, I shut down the mower, leaned into the yellow seat’s back rest and kept him company for a while.
Knowing the sensibilities of his forking tongue, I figured he realized something big and warm was nearby. Snakes don’t see much, so I sat still, and the snake settled back into his place.
After a few minutes, apparently warmed up enough, he uncoiled long and leisurely, and headed for the brush.
At other camps where I’d worked decades ago, the summer’s endings were crowded with good-byes and tearful promises to keep summer loves alive.
On this particular last day, this final good-bye, there was only me and my big, old, snake: no promises made, none to be kept or broken.
He probably couldn’t make much out of me, but of him I knew just enough. He’d have to search longer and more carefully than I would for a safe place to hunker down for the dark months.
I’d never know whether he came through to the spring, but I was certain our paths would never cross again.