Lessons from a Gopher Snake


I am writing this from Boulder, Lessons from a Gopher SnakeColorado. I am staying with friends over the weekend, and then on Monday morning I present at my first panel at the Conference on World Affairs. This will be the first of eight panels, covering a range of topics from creativity, to addiction, to immigration. The Conference on World Affairs attracts almost 80,000 people each year. The idea is to mix and match individuals of differing experience, education, and perspectives and throw them into discussions on a variety of topics, some of which they have no expertise in. The dialog that ensues is thus freed from cant and certitude, and begins to live and breathe more authentically.

I am really excited to be a part of it. And also nervous. Which is why I'm so grateful for the lesson I received on Easter Sunday from a gopher snake.

Gopher snakes are non-venomous. But when they want to look threatening, they can. They puff up their body and curl themselves into the classic strike pose of a pit viper. However, rather than delivering an open-mouthed strike, the gopher snake strikes with a closed mouth, using its blunt nose to "warn-off" possible predators.

A gopher snake will also shake its tail, confusing predators into thinking it is a rattlesnake. In dry grass this makes them sound eerily like a rattler. When Bruce and I came across a four foot gopher that Easter morning, the sound it made on the gravel stopped us in our tracks.

So what has this got to do with my being a panelist at the Conference of World Affairs? Only this: sometimes you have to act as if you're a little bit braver and fiercer than you feel in the moment.

After all, it's worked for the gopher snake for tens of thousands of years.