I open my eyes with all my strength. After an hour long nap, I wake up groggy, with a blurry vision and a heavy head. Laying in the grass with my head on my backpack, my eyes are filled with blue sky and my ears full of the silence of this heat. Even the sea keeps quiet. Not a breath of wind. Since the birds I came to watch weren’t here, I took advantage of this rare weather to take a nap in these rocky salt marshes of southern Norway.
I straighten myself up so I don’t go back to sleep. A few gulls silently pass by the sea. On land, some wheatears disappear in the heat haze. I rub my eyes to find some sharpness back. A grayish spot is a meter from me. I can’t figure out what it is. Still blinking a little bit…
There it is, still, with its head slightly raised up above the short grass: a European Adder! I cannot believe it ! She is laying there, bathing in the sun, just like me, peacefully, without any sign of disturbance. I am scared of moving and scaring it away. So slowly I lay back down, bring the binoculars to my eyes and now, I discover the real beauty of this animal. My gaze dives into its sparkling brick-red eye, its vertical pupil barely visible. Then from scale to scale, the almost white greyish blue gives way to the deep black of its mask, which extends into a magnificent zigzag on its slender silhouette. A dream subject for a painting, all in contrasts, but the profusion of details is intimidating.
Darn it! All my drawing material is in my backpack. By opening it from the bottom I manage, without disturbing the viper, to pull my block of paper that I press against my bag. I have my pencil in the right hand, binoculars trembling in the left, my back arched and I am leaning on my elbows. For half an hour, I am trying to silence the discomfort and frustration of not succeeding in my sketch, to try to focus on the observation. Imperceptibly, it starts moving and ends up leaving. I can finally relax!
From afar, I watch it move gently on the grass then act like an acrobat between the rocks. Little by little, I get closer, watching its reaction, to end up sitting on its path and watching it pass, indifferent, a few centimeters from my feet. I can’t believe it! For two hours, I’m witnessing its journey, trying to make a way through brackish water holes and rocks. It is climbing, progressing like a tightrope walker, trying to catch a hold at the very last moment by the tip of its tail, ending up falling and getting out of a hole to start all over again somewhere else. I am the privileged observer of the calm and peaceful show, of an animal with a great deal of patience and prudence.
Rocked by the sweet lapping of the ocean, I think to all the agitation this beautiful animal is causing. Chills, screams, fleeing, the long list of dangers and the scary stories that often end up in the reptile’s massacre.
After two hours in its company, I’m leaving it alone so I don’t bother it too much in what is surely its first outing this year. It must be hungry after winter. I am going back to my sketch to paint it while carrying on with my thoughts.
Ecstatic silence; screams of terror.
Getting closer; running away.
Wondering ; fearing.
Narrating ; warning.
How can two such opposite attitudes describe this same scene? Who’s right? Deep down, I obviously feel my reaction is the right one, but could I be wrong? No. Everything I hear is in total contradiction with my observations and what my herpethologist friends and readings assure without hesitation.
Yet neither books nor experts can change that fear. We must not seek a rational solution to these anxieties, but rather rely on reality to dispel our ignorance. When we see this snake that makes us jump, before we catch a shovel to cut it to pieces as it happens all too often, take a deep breath, and watch what it does, from a distance, without disturbing it. It won’t come after you, it won’t try to bite you.
So slowly, watching this peaceful snake, an idea will slowly emerge : ′′ Could it be that what I’ve been doing for twenty, thirty or forty years, is based on beliefs I’ve never tried to verify? Is it possible that sparing this viper does not change anything to my life? That nothing gets worse? And that by being around it, on sunny days, I even end up taking a curious look at ′′ its corner ′′ every time I go out? “. We might be able to change our habits, for the best, by acting against our biases in the viper’s way: with a great deal of patience and prudence.