Here are some ways I’ve discovered to thrive in small spaces with a romantic partner.
I love all kinds of animals, but as far as pets go, I prefer furry and friendly to cold-blooded and scaly. And I prefer dogs to cats, as felines could be fatal. (They cause me anaphylaxis.) And yet, I've found myself in love with and living with a man who has an outdoor cat, a red heeler cattle dog, a red-eared slider he rescued from a nearly frozen demise, and a senior-citizen corn snake.
And to my great surprise, I've learned quite a few life lessons over the past two years of living with Moe the snake.
Think before you strike.
Moe's meals are thawed mice. Since he's over 21 years old, we make getting sustenance easy for him. We defrost a dead mouse in a cup of water from the hot-water tap and then dangle the mouse by its tail and wait for Moe to grab it.
Moe approaches us and the mouse with caution as he flicks his tongue a few times to smell the air. It isn't until he's certain where everything is and that it's safe for him that he lengthens and strikes towards the mouse. And sometimes he misses, as his eyesight and sense of smell may not be what it once was.
From Moe, I've learned to pause before I act — to consider my actions and reactions more carefully and not to pounce unless I'm sure it is the right course of action. (And even if I'm sure, sometimes, like Moe, I'll miss the mark the first time I try for something.)
Test the atmosphere.
When Moe approaches his bowl of water, he flicks his forked tongue. He also does this in the direction of the aquarium walls as he heads toward people or when he's out of his home and being handled; it gives him a sense of what's around him due to the receptors on his tongue.
Snakes use the environmental information they collect to determine where to go (or to not go), what to eat or avoid, and simply how to survive. I compare it to the proverbial testing of a swimming pool's water by sticking in our toes before diving in, or how my husband and I went to a wine bar on our first date before going to dinner.
Beauty can be found in unexpected places.
Moe's mix of colors and patterns includes diamond shapes and a bit of striping. Like my husband, his kids, and the family dog, Moe is primarily a ginger. But when Moe moves around his aquarium — as opposed to resting on the branch — you can sometimes see his underbelly, especially if he's climbing. Moe's underbelly is black and white and resembles piano keys. It's a striking and beautiful contrast to his other side.
It reminds me that beauty can be found where you least expect it, and when you aren't looking for it. Some of my favorite photos I've taken have been of a flower that has bloomed through granite rock face and of a city dump made strikingly colorful by its variety of garbage. I keep my eyes open for beauty all around me every day, knowing it can be anywhere.
Some sun every day is vital for healthy living.
Moe's favorite place to rest is under his sun lamp, which is on for 12 hours a day. It warms his body, and he produces vitamin D from its ultraviolet light. Like in humans, vitamin D helps a snake's metabolism and helps him process calcium effectively to keep his bones strong.
I know if I spend too much time indoors and don't get enough sunlight, I feel sluggish. So I've taken a cue from Moe and make sure I get some sunlight every day so I can feel my best.
Shedding is essential.
Every few months, Moe's eyes start to look a bit cloudy and his skin seems less vibrant. He becomes a bit lethargic, like his skin is ill-fitting and constrictive. And then, when the timing is right, he wiggles and wriggles and literally slithers out of his outer layer of skin.
So many times in my life, I've grown, expanded in mind, body, and spirit in such a way that jobs and relationships feel like they no longer fit — that they're hindering instead of helping me. Sloughing off those things helps me in my continued path.
Get your exercise and your rest.
Sometimes Moe spends an afternoon curled on his tree branch taking a nap. Other times he slithers up and down the branch and through the natural obstacles in his home, stretching himself into a straight line along the bottom of the aquarium or even vertical up the glass wall. His muscles ripple and contract as he "works out." Every day he exercises and every day he rests, just like I should.
Some days, when my yoga instructor and I have class in "Moe's room," otherwise known as the guest bedroom, Moe seems like he joins the class. He mimics our movements from behind his glass and follows the yogi as she leads me. There's nothing like doing high or low cobra while facing an actual snake.
Eat when you're hungry.
Snakes, in the wild and in captivity, do not eat out of boredom. In the wild they have a variety of food options: termites, rodents, birds, frogs, other reptiles, and small deer, depending on the snake's size, and they consume their food whole. Snakes don't even eat every day; they only eat when they're hungry.
Humans, on the other hand, eat popcorn at movie theaters and hot dogs at ballparks out of tradition rather to fulfill a need. Moe eats about once a week; even when insects fly into his cage, he leaves them alone if he isn't hungry. It reminds me not to eat something just because it's there.
I never expected to live with a snake, much less learn so much from one. And while I still wouldn't consider myself a "snake person," I'm grateful to greet him every day, and I've grown to love him just as much as I love the dog.