“I need a rattle.”

The thought came to the snake faster than the warming rays of first light. Thus, it was sluggish and didn’t quite stick at first. It wasn’t until the energy of the new day soaked though her scales and stirred her blood that the idea compelled her unblinking eye toward her once magnificent tail. The sight brought the drama of the hawk and the drop, the scramble to find cover and the pain, all rushing in. She even shook her tail, but the expectant buzz was replaced by a dull thudding noise. No thankfulness entered her heart this morning. She did not feel a sense of gratefulness for surviving the attack. Any feelings of appreciation were now muffled by the feeling of remorse at the loss of her beautiful tail. The grief was just too all encompassing.It was hunger that eventually drove her from her shelter.

She saw the other snakes stare and turn to each other. She kept to the low places and the corners, wanting to remain unseen, unnoticed. Her imagination built conversations between the snakes she passed, each one mocking her for her lost tail, her lack of awareness. She found a pocket gopher; it’s heat guiding her to the den. A coyote passed by and all of her attempts at rattling did nothing to break its stride.She remembered the respect her beautiful tale commanded. Again, snakes are staring, whispering. Entering the den she found her mark and feasted. While her belly was full, her heart remained empty. She fell asleep in the den. The scraping of claws startled her from her mournful sleep. A badger, taking advantage of the cool shade the hole provided, or looking for food, started to burrow toward her. He used his razor sharp claws to widen the entrance. She rattled, and nothing. She coiled, and nothing. The darkness and lack of noise left no other option. Badgers eat snakes. She struck at the center of the darkness and hit. She did it again, and again. The wall of fur paused, then stuttered before shuffling backwards. Hope faded as the mass stopped at the opening, the only avenue of escape.


The life giving sun was leaving. She had to get out or she would never survive the cold night of the desert. Slowly she inched near the badger. Not until she was close did she realize it was dead. As she crawled over the body, more snakes were whispering and staring from the rock. The burden of this was too much. Seeking counsel with the matriarch, she headed toward the sandstone ledge that housed the elders.


She was careful to hide her tail when other snakes came with in sight, but her arrival was not unnoticed. The clan mothers seemed unusually happy to see her. The elders greeted her warmly. When at last she saw the matriarch, the voice of the wisdom keeper startled her. “Why do you hide that amazing tail”, she asked. Sliding closer to examine the young snake, the Matriarch continued. “Your scars are the stuff of legend. For the last two days your story has been shared. Your encounter with the hawk, how you survived the fall to Earth, your standing up to the coyote with out flinching, and most amazing of all, your battle with the badger. Your tail holds the story of all of these things louder than any words. You should hold that tail with pride.”


Of course, snakes cannot really speak. And, even if they could, they would rarely find the energy to share this sort of thing with each other. However, the story is too important not to be told. Therefore it is up to us to find the story within ourselves when we find that our scars are holding us back, or that our tails have been nipped. These things that we believe are being told of us should be heard in a way that frees us, empowers us, becomes our badge of wisdom borne of hardship, not a prison of shame, grief, or inaction rooted in a story of shortcomings.


Folks come to our school to learn survival and we give them a list of priorities. At the top of that list is “Attitude”. After coming to classes for a year or so, they find that the list of priorities applies to more than just survival. It applies to a full and empowering life regardless of what is thrown your way.


This story was given to me after a Cherokee Elder made a statement at one of our classes. All he said was, “I need a rattle”. By the time I walked from the winter classroom to the office, the story rushed in. I typed it out as fast as I could before it left me. Now it is yours.