On the weekend at my place in Kangaroo Valley I was doing some work around my vegetable garden. The garden is covered in netting to protect the crops from local wildlife who are tempted by the joys of human grown food.

As I pulled up the netting I saw a snake, a red-bellied black snake. I jumped back, startled. Then I looked more closely and realised that the snake was dead.

This snake had been with me for years, and our paths had crossed occasionally when I wandered around my property. We were not what you would call the best of friends, but we were good neighbours. We shared the land together. We acknowledged each other’s presence. We allowed each other the space to live separate but connected lives. Now through my worthy intention of growing vegetables, this beautiful snake died.

Looking at the snake, I knew she had to be cut out of her last torment. With scissors I gently cut away the netting, and handled her sensuous body for the first time. I felt the fullness of her weight, her black skin surprisingly soft to the touch, and her red (I thought it more pink) underside still bright. Her elegant head, her eyes wondering how life could end this way, suffocated by synthetic netting. I wondered how painful this would have been for her.

I stood still and apologised to the snake, for taking her life, even it unintentionally. I felt enormous sorrow. She was an important part of the life of this land, and now she was gone. Did the land feel this loss also?

I needed to ceremonially bury the snake. I dug a hole on a short rise, just in front of the bend of the creek that runs through my property. I placed her gently in her shallow grave. I placed some red sand over her body, the sand of the old dreaming country.

Such sadness. Just one snake? How much more destruction goes on every day, in every place, by industrial civilisation. But I killed this snake with a veggie garden net! Death is still death, whether caused by a machine, or by carelessness. But this was not the death of just one snake; it was the death of another who lived on the land that I “own”, a fellow inhabitant.

Living in the country one needs to get used to the presence of snakes. Through paying attention, and being fully aware, I was able to sense when the black snake was around, and take extra care. Better to develop a snake sense, I feel, than mowing the entire property, which some neighbours do to avoid snakes.

That sensory awareness, that ability to feel into the presence of a wild other, was a gift I received. I’ll treasure that.