”Last night I dreamed that I was in my grandmothers yard. My son had caught a snake in a white paper bag. Scared of snakes, I was afraid to approach it but I felt a sense of sadness for the creature and longed to set it free. So I approached the bag, with caution, and peered inside. The small black snake lay still in the bag. I picked it up and tipped it over to release it onto the driveway. As I did, it became a worm.” -A journal entry
I’ve always been scared of snakes. My mother tells a story of my father catching a copperhead (a small poisonous snake that is prevalent near my childhood home) and placing it in a jar to show me. I have no memory of the event; I was very young. As she tells it, I looked at the snake in the jar with interest until it coiled and snapped at me. After that, I had a deathly fear of all such creatures. I’m not sure if that single incident created or simply empowered my fear of snakes but it certainly didn’t help.
When I awoke from the dream, I opened my computer and begin searching for its meaning. The different interpretations ranged from “fear” and “transformation” to, “It was just a dream, it didn’t mean anything.” I feel sorry for people who are so cynical that they can’t see the magic in anything.
A few pages through my Google® search, I found an entry that suggested that the snake represented my father. This struck a chord. It’s transformation from something dangerous to something innocuous felt enlightening.
People tell me that we dream every night, but I rarely remember my dreams, if that is true. When I wake from one so vivid, it often haunts me. It continues to play out in my mind as I try to find meaning for it. That morning was no different. I wrestled with it through my first cup of coffee and breakfast. I had the day off of work, so I decided to take the thoughts with me on a wander. Solvitur Ambuland: it is solved by walking.
”A study in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology found that cognitive performance was increased when the subject was actually walking. ‘We conclude that the interaction of walking and cognitive performance is influenced by sharing resources between two tasks,’ the report states, ‘and that performance improvements in cognition may be caused by an exercise-induced activation of resources.’” -Ariana Huffington from the Huffington Post
When I need to find clarity, a good walk usually does the trick. I jumped in my car and headed to one of my favorite local trails. I walked up the hillside and listened to the creek flowing under the thin ice left over from last night’s freeze. I admired the last brown birch leaves clinging to nearly empty branches. I listened to the birds shuffling through the underbrush as they searched for breakfast. Then I came around a bend in the path that disappeared under fallen leaves and saw a large boulder stacked with carins.
Carins are unnaturally stacked piles of rocks that mark the way across otherwise unseen paths. These were not marking the way. They were placed with another intent. They were set in place for fun. I stopped to take a picture (the feature image for this post) and the thought struck me: I understood my dream.
Along with the story of the snake, I grew up hearing another story from my mother. Sometimes she said it outright (like last Father’s day) but more often she told me in less-overt ways: I would never be as good a man as my father.
Before I go on, I feel that I should be clear about something. I love my parents. I believe that they did the best they could raising me. My father is a good man and he was a good father, but he’s not perfect and there is no reason I should ever compare myself to him or anyone.
What I realized was that the snake (my father) is not what he seemed. He is not dangerous. He is not something to be feared. All of my life, I have lived under his shadow, convinced that I could never match his success. When I built up the courage to approach that fact and turn the bag over to release it, I was faced with a worm—an innocuous and important creature but not one to be feared. Years of weight, like the stacked rocks of the carins tumbled to my feet as I realized that I had been living a lie.
When Walking Works
I am a true believer in the power of a good walk. The two hours I spent in nature, working through my dream have woken me to the weight I have been carrying needlessly for over forty years. I cannot contain the excitement of the release of that weight. I walked lighter and happier after that discovery and the feeling continues. Solvitur Ambulando: It is solved by walking.
We all wander for different reasons. Some want exercise, others want space. Some are looking for something and others are running away from something. Regardless, a good long walk can give clarity when you cannot find it in any other place. Science is finding truth in what the poets, philosophers, and mystics have always told us: solvitur ambulando.