Hi folks! I’m back again and I hope this finds you all well!
I just wanted to share this photo with you: it is what my son was confronted with when opening the well on his olive-tree finca. It might not be very clear at first sight, but if you take a closer look you should be able to see a nice, fat, juicy, khaki-coloured snake coiled up and half-hiding under one of the water tubes. Luckily it didn’t raise its ugly head (poor thing!) so the well lid was immediately dropped back down and hasn’t been reopened in a while. I’m not exactly sure as to what type of snake it is (there are no diamond markings on its back so it’s not a poisonous viper). It could be the mildly venomous Malpolon monspessulanus (Culebra bastarda — sounds rude, doesn’t it?!), or a Macroprotodon (Western false smooth snake), with a pretty harmless bite.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, and before moving onto another longish story (if you have the time and patience!), this event brought to mind one of Idries Shah’s tales, entitled The Man, the Snake and the Stone, taken from his Caravan of Dreams.
So here’s the man:
And here’s the story:—
The Man, the Snake and the Stone — Idries Shah, Caravan of Dreams
One day a man who had not a care in the world was walking along a road. An unusual object to one side of him caught his eye. ‘I must find out what this is,’ he said to himself.
As he came up to it, he saw that it was a large, very flat stone.
‘I must find out what is underneath this,’ he told himself. And he lifted the stone.
No sooner had he done so than he heard a loud, hissing sound, and a huge snake came gliding out from a hole under the stone. The man dropped the stone in alarm. The snake wound itself into a coil, and said to him:
‘Now I am going to kill you, for I am a venomous snake.’
‘But I have released you,’ said the man, ‘how can you repay good with evil? Such an action would not accord with reasonable behaviour.’
‘In the first place,’ said the snake, ‘you lifted the stone from curiosity and in ignorance of the possible consequences. How can this now suddenly become “I have released you”?’
‘We must always try to return to reasonable behaviour, when we stop to think,’ murmured the man.
‘Return to it when you think invoking it might suit your interests,’ said the snake.
‘Yes,’ said the man, ‘I was a fool to expect reasonable behaviour from a snake.’
‘From a snake, expect snake-behaviour,’ said the snake. ‘To a snake, snake-behaviour is what can be regarded as reasonable.’
‘Now I am going to kill you,’ it continued.
‘Please do not kill me,’ said the man, ‘give me another chance. You have taught me about curiosity, reasonable behaviour and snake-behaviour. Now you would kill me before I can put this knowledge into action.’
‘Very well,’ said the snake, ‘I shall give you another chance. I shall come along with you on your journey. We will ask the next creature whom we meet, who shall be neither a man nor a snake, to adjudicate between us.’
The man agreed, and they started on their way.
Before long they came to a flock of sheep in a field. The snake stopped, and the man cried to the sheep:
‘Sheep, sheep, please save me! This snake intends to kill me. If you tell him not to do so he will spare me. Give a verdict in my favour, for I am a man, the friend of sheep.’
One of the sheep answered:
‘We have been put out into this field after serving a man for many years. We have given him wool year after year, and now that we are old, tomorrow he will kill us for mutton. That is the measure of the generosity of men. Snake, kill that man!’
The snake reared up and his green eyes glittered as he said to the man: ‘This is how your friends see you. I shudder to think what your enemies are like!’
‘Give me one more chance,’ cried the man in desperation. ‘Please let us find someone else to give an opinion, so that my life may be spared.’
‘I do not want to be as unreasonable as you think I am,’ said the snake, ‘and I will therefore continue in accordance with your pattern, and not with mine. Let us ask the next individual whom we may meet – being neither a man nor a snake – what your fate is to be.’
The man thanked the snake, and they continued on their journey.
Presently they came upon a lone horse, standing hobbled in a field. The snake addressed him:
‘Horse, horse, why are you hobbled like that?’
The horse said:
‘For many years I served a man. He gave me food, for which I had not asked, and he taught me to serve him. He said that this was in exchange for the food and stable. Now that I am too infirm to work, he has decided to sell me soon for horse-meat. I am hobbled because the man thinks that if I roam over this field I will eat too much of his grass.’
‘Do not make this horse my judge, for God’s sake!’ exclaimed the man.
‘According to our compact,’ said the snake inexorably, ‘this man and I have agreed to have our case judged by you.’
He outlined the matter, and the horse said:
‘Snake, it is beyond my capabilities and not in my nature to kill a man. But I feel that you, as a snake, have no alternative but to do so if a man is in your power.’
‘If you will give me just one more chance,’ begged the man, ‘I am sure that something will come to my aid. I have been unlucky on this journey so far, and have only come across creatures who have a grudge. Let us therefore choose some animal which has no such knowledge and hence no generalised animosity towards my kind.’
‘People do not know snakes,’ said the snake, ‘and yet they seem to have a generalised animosity towards them. But I am willing to give you just one more chance.’
They continued their journey.
Soon they saw a fox, lying asleep under a bush beside the road. The man woke the fox gently, and said:
‘Fear nothing, brother fox. My case is such-and-such, and my future depends upon your decision. The snake will give me no further chance, so only your generosity or altruism can help me.’
The fox thought for a moment, and then he said:
‘I am not sure that only generosity or altruism can operate here. But I will engage myself in this matter. In order to come to a decision I must rely upon something more than hearsay. We must demonstrate as well. Come, let us return to the beginning of your journey, and examine the facts on the spot.’
They returned to where the first encounter had taken place.
‘Now we will reconstruct the situation,’ said the fox; ‘snake, be so good as to take your place once more, in your hole under that flat stone.’
The man lifted the stone, and the snake coiled itself up in the hollow beneath it. The man let the stone fall.
The snake was now trapped again, and the fox, turning to the man, said: ‘We have returned to the beginning. The snake cannot get out unless you release him. He leaves our story at this point.’
‘Thank you, thank you,’ said the man, his eyes full of tears.
‘Thanks are not enough, brother,’ said the fox. ‘In addition to generosity and altruism there is the matter of my payment.’
‘How can you enforce payment?’ asked the man.
‘Anyone who can solve the problem which I have just concluded,’ said the fox, ‘is well able to take care of such a detail as that. I again invite you to recompense me, from fear if not from any sense of justice. Shall we call it, in your words, being “reasonable”?’
The man said:
‘Very well, come to my house and I will give you a chicken.’
They went to the man’s house. The man went into his chicken-coop, and came back in a moment with a bulging sack. The fox seized it and was about to open it when the man said:
‘Friend fox, do not open the sack here. I have human neighbours and they should not know that I am co-operating with a fox. They might kill you, as well as censuring me.’
‘That is a reasonable thought,’ said the fox; ‘what do you suggest I do?’
‘Do you see that clump of trees yonder?’ said the man, pointing. ‘Yes,’ said the fox.
‘You run with the sack into that cover, and you will be able to enjoy your meal unmolested.’
The fox ran off.
As soon as he reached the trees a party of hunters, whom the man knew would be there, caught him. He leaves our story here.
And the man? His future is yet to come.
Moral of the story? Perhaps something like: you never know what might be under a rock, or in a clever man’s mind… (although knowing the Sufis, it probably isn’t that simple!)
Well, thank you for bearing with me — take care! xxx