Environment & Conservation, Farm Life

Cultivating Love and Courage

In the garden, a baby snake taught me a powerful lesson. If I want to live in a vibrant, healed planet, I need to be brave enough to love all the creatures who make it so. Even the ones who make me a little uncomfortable.

When I see snakes thriving on my land, I feel like I must be doing my work well. Reptiles and amphibians are some of the most sensitive creatures to environmental damage. When they thrive, it suggests that life and health are returning to this land. Snakes are my performance review. I’m here to guide this land back into a thriving state of wholeness after a century spent in hard service to industrialized agriculture. I want that wholeness, and everything that comes with it. That doesn’t mean I don’t startle when I see a snake slithering around near my foot, even though they are absolutely always slithering away from me rather than towards.

Just because I feel uncomfortable around snakes sometimes doesn’t mean they don’t have as much right to be here as I have. The discomfort I feel is on me. It’s my emotional baggage, my prejudice, the snake stereotype that the culture of my childhood imprinted into my brain. I’m working on myself. I don’t blame the snakes, who have never done anything to hurt me.

What the snakes actually do is eat the voles who used to terrorize my garden. Voles are little mouse-like creatures who eat plants and make tunnels under the ground. I used to have so many voles that nearly all my plants were uprooted, root damaged, and dying. In the early years, I had to buy multiple bulk sets of sonic vole repelling spikes in order to keep my plants alive. The sonic repelling spikes were loud and obnoxious, they were made of plastic and packaged in more plastic, and they were shipped long distances and purchased from a mega corporation. I am not a fan of loud noises, or plastic, or the fumes that shipping trucks emit, or mega corporations. Obviously this was not an ideal solution, but I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have any snakes yet. I wasn’t a good substitute for a snake.

I am finally able to retire all the sonic vole repelling spikes. My garden is peaceful and quiet again, and I haven’t seen a single vole all year. I have about seven snakes living in my garden right now. They are all garter snakes. They are non-venomous and non-aggressive. I think they might be a family.

The picture below is of my first snake helper. She moved into my garden in 2021. She liked to relax in my herb spiral near the oregano back then. Later that summer, I saw two tiny snakes that looked just like her. I assume she is a female, and that the tiny snakes were her offspring. She is much larger now, and she still spends most of her time in my garden.

Garter Snake in the Herb Spiral

Sometimes when I pick up a potted plant, or a piece of cardboard or a stone, there’s a snake under it. It always startles me. I try to stay calm. They are just living their lives and doing their good work here. They truly are a blessing. They don’t need to change anything about themselves.

If we as a people want our planet to heal and to thrive, we must do more than plant a tree. We need to find enough love and courage within ourselves to risk sharing space even when it makes us uncomfortable. If we can learn to love the snakes and the toads, the bugs and the weeds, the hawks and coyotes, the rivers and the meadows, our near neighbors and our far neighbors, we can begin to see that we are all vital parts of this world. The farm that I’m building is for them as much as it is for people. It’s a farm about nature, and people are one aspect of nature. Learning to coexist safely and responsibly with all that the world holds takes time and work, but it doesn’t have to come down to a question of us or them. We are all a part of one big interconnected ecosystem. When you thrive, I thrive. Let’s all thrive together.

Safety Note: Nothing in life is totally safe. There are always risks. To minimize risk when encountering the natural world, I suggest learning as much as you can about your local environment. Learn how to react when you encounter an animal or an insect that you’re not familiar with. Learn their names and which ones might be harmful. Learn what to do if you get stung or bitten. The more you know, the better you can assess the risk of any given situation and make the best possible decisions for yourself and your loved ones. Read our full disclaimer for more information.