I wrote all my books on the Boca Rio Sierpe — the mouth of the snake. Usually I worked on one book at a time in a sequential process. Writing in the tropical jungle is a privileged occupation, mainly because so many other things demand one’s attention.
During the writing of each book, some strange, unforgettable event occurred that became associated with that book. For example, while writing Fastball Fari I had a most incredible encounter with a fer-de-lance snake — a deadly pit viper. Throughout the years I’ve had several close encounters with these snakes, but I’ve never been bitten. However, every time I see the cover of Fari I’m reminded of one particular snake encounter that seemed almost holy.
Our electricity and water come from a natural spring born high on the mountainside. The water to the house and the water to the pelton is carried by PVC pipe laid on the jungle floor. This pipe is vulnerable to falling trees or branches and big animals. (Or little animals; one time we caught a few monkeys bathing in the fiberglass holding tank!) At least once a month I’m obliged to go upstream and fix a problem. This was when I first encountered Grandfather.
Grandfather (or maybe it was Grandmother; I didn’t look too closely) was a seven foot fer-de-lance — a deadly pit viper — that I had seen several times in and around the stream. He was beautiful, strong and powerful. These snakes are very territorial, so apparently we were in each other’s territory.
Grandfather’s markings blended exquisitely with the jungle floor and I never saw him before he saw me. He’d move as I approached, warning me, and I’d stop. We’d stand our ground motionless. Grandfather never tried to attack me, but he never backed off either. We’d watch each other until I moved around him and continued on my errand.
One day, while writing Fari, the water line to the house went empty and I had to investigate. I shut down the computer, put on my rubber boots and started up the stream. About fifty meters upstream I came to a small patch of sand and sun in the middle of the stream, and lying on the sand was Grandfather. He lay in a tight curl with his head pointing away from me, upstream. I stopped immediately. The dogs were with me and barked furiously at the snake — from a safe distance — but the snake did not move.
The dogs took off upstream and I watched Grandfather. He still hadn’t moved. I picked up a nearby stick and touched the snake lightly along its back, stroking from the head down. Still, the snake didn’t react. However, I noticed the stomach muscles rippled in rhythm with the movement of the stick.
I dropped the stick, bent over and stretched out my hand. I laid my forefinger on the snake’s head and stroked it gently. Still Grandfather made no overt reaction. Even more astonishing, I felt the snake back into my finger, as a cat would. I realized the snake liked the touch and didn’t care where it came from!
I gave Grandfather about 10 slow strokes from my finger before I suddenly realized what I was doing — giving a massage to a seven foot fer-de-lance. I experienced a powerful surge of joy and adrenaline. I left Grandfather alone, continued upstream and fixed the water problem. Twenty minutes later, when I returned, Grandfather was gone.