“Until we extend the circle of compassion to include all living things, man himself will not have peace.” – Albert Schweitzer
One late hot evening, after the first heavy rains of the year, I was standing under a tree in my farm with some of my colleagues reviewing how well the tree corridors we had planted the year before were developing when a green snake fell from a tree, briefly landing on my shoulders, to the ground. We were all startled and jumped away for cover. Only one of us, a young man named Gado, sprung into action instead of cowering away by chasing the snake and killing it with a stick. After he had completed his task, he turned to me to find out if I had been bitten by the snake.
Fortunately, I had not. But, my wide eyes and slow speech were signs that I was still trying to recover from the shock that, of the three of us standing, I was the one the snake fell on. I had been the chosen one. I got myself together in time to process all that had just happened but not early enough to maybe have stopped the killing of the beautiful sake. Indeed it had a rich green colour that clothed the length of its body in such a way that reflected the light and radiated beauty. You see, after landing on the ground, the snake had tried to get away through the green grass into a nearby bush before it was killed. Although I had mixed feelings about the killing, Gado explained to me that he had acted quickly because, if I had been bitten, the best cure for such a bite would have been to have the snake cooked immediately for me to eat in form of pepper soup. According to him, that was the only way to get the poison out of my body.
Still, it was not easy for me to accept the killing of such a beautiful snake because of the relationship and respect I had developed over years with and for all living creatures. I have written about this so many times in my column, and the snake was one of these creatures. It fell on my shoulders but did not bite me; it was trying to get away peacefully before it was killed. I have always felt that every creature had a place in nature, a member of the biodiversity that provides the essential infrastructure supporting life on Earth and human development. I have also come to realise that the snake is one of the most peaceful animals out there in the wild. I have never seen a snake attack any human being without provocation – an attack only happens when the snake is threatened.
Before this incident, I have had two encounters with snakes. The first time was in the early 1950s in my hometown. There was this very big leaf on the pathway and I tried to kick the leaf out of the way not knowing that a snake was hidden under the leaf. I was bitten by the snake and, for three weeks, I was hospitalised in the home of a native doctor that specialised in treating snake bites. For most of the period, I was not able to walk but, after three weeks, I recovered miraculously. The treatment was a mixture of all sorts of concoctions presumably with snake meat.
The second encounter was in the Sahara Desert. It happened during my second solo expedition driving from Nigeria to London across the Sahara. I had come to discover that it was more comfortable to sleep on the soft sand dunes (almost as comfortable as a mattress), So, one night, in my usual fashion after a whole day of driving, I brought out my sleeping bag and laid it on the dune, it definitely beat sleeping inside the car.
During this particular night, I felt a vibration and movement underneath my sleeping bag but it was such a good sleep that I did not want to be disturbed, so I ignored it. The following morning, I was making my breakfast when I saw this desert snake come out of the ground underneath my sleeping bag. To think that I had slept the whole night with a snake underneath my sleeping bag but it did not hurt me!
Following the third encounter, I decided to pay a visit to the home of the indigenous native doctor that treated my first snake bite. Sadly, I was informed that he had passed on several years ago; his son had taken over his profession and was now practising the same type of medicine. The young doctor remembered me and so I narrated my experience with the beautiful green snake that moved away peacefully after falling on my shoulders. He told me that once bitten by a snake, I was never to be bitten by any snake again. This belief was confirmed by a few people I spoke to. In my humble opinion, I would rather say that the best way to not be bitten again is to not have another encounter with the green snake.
The green snake is a common name for a range of snakes with the green colour. It is beautiful outside but may not be as beautiful on the inside as, depending on the species, it could be venomous or nonvenomous. The Philothamnus Semivariegatus is more popular in Nigeria and is found mainly in the tropics. The green snake easily blends with the grass and vegetation, which makes it difficult to notice in such an environment. It is very gracious in movement but vicious in attack with the advantage of being able to camouflage itself easily. The simple way of summarising the life of this particular green snake is that of ‘Live and Let Live.’
The green snake is part of what makes up the variety of plant and animal life in the world, its biodiversity, and, as we know, biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity and ensures the natural sustainability of all life forms.
This year’s World Environment Day, which comes up on Friday, June 5, calls for urgent action to protect biodiversity. An urgent call, owing to the fact that biodiversity loss is at an all-time high with millions of plants and animal species being driven into extinction by humans. We seem to forget that the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Everything surely must have a role to play in nature or it wouldn’t exist, even my green snake. No matter how venomous it might have been, it was an important part of nature.
After pondering why the snake chose to pay a short visit to me on its way to the ground without biting me, I do not buy the theory proffered by the native doctor that once bitten by a snake and treated with snake poison, you become immune to snake bites, I came to the conclusion that my relationship with all living things and my love for nature may have contributed to the snake travelling across my shoulders to show some respect for what I have done to nature. Maybe it wanted to say hello and thank me for the compassion I have extended to all living things on earth, like a pat on the back.
Green has always being my favourite colour because it symbolises nature that controls the air we breathe and the food we eat. It is why I have written and signed with a green pen for decades and also, when I sign on a white paper, it symbolizes nationhood, that is, the flag of our nation: Green White Green. I conclude with this quote that serves as a warning from nature:
“The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.” – John Paul II