George Bowers Sr.: Snakes in the leaves

George Bowers Sr.

Imagine my alarm as my 12-year-old son exclaimed, “Hey Dad, what kind of snake is this?” Those are the words that will immediately command every father’s full attention, especially when his 9-year-old daughter is close behind that son.

About a dozen years ago, the three of us were hiking to Abrams Falls in Cade’s Cove deep in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains. It was a beautiful summer day with moderate temperatures and a mixture of sun and clouds. The hike is not particularly strenuous as it descends to a very beautiful waterfall on Abrams Creek and has been identified as one of the most scenic excursions in the park.

As we made our way along the trail, together with hundreds of other hikers going and coming, my son decided to go rogue and, with my permission, took off up through the woods. He’d been in the woods before and was experienced enough to know what he was doing. Of course, his little sister was right behind him for this big adventure.

When those words rang out, however, I quickly joined the two of them on the ridgetop to discover and exclaim, “That is a garter snake,” as I recognized the black, green and yellow stripes running the length of its slender body. Although the coloring provided some camouflage, the snake was not terribly difficult to spot in the brown leaves.

But as soon as I’d said it, I noticed just to the right of this harmless creature another legless reptile, and declared, “But that’s a copperhead. And there’s another one. And there’s another one.” Within a 10-foot radius there were not only two garter snakes, but three copperheads that were much more difficult to detect on the mottled forest floor. Suddenly, the fun off-trail adventure became a tedious trek back to the well-traveled footpath.

As I led my children out of that danger zone, I cautioned them to step exactly in my footprints and to keep their eyes open for other crawlies as they went. We gingerly made our way, glimpsing a fourth copperhead and the shed skin of yet another along the short march. As a responsible parent with two young children, I was more than a little edgy and judiciously examined every square inch of terrain as we exited what seemed to be a singles bar for snakes. Thankfully, we soon reconnected with the trail about 30 yards away, eventually enjoyed the cool pool beneath the falls and returned to our car without further incident. We did, however, have quite a story to share.

This heart-stressing experience is not unlike the culture in which we live today. We and our children are trekking through a landscape fraught with multiple hazards. Internet pornography, addictive drugs, and casual sex lay carefully camouflaged all along our pathways and adults and children both can easily step into these dangers unknowingly. Even more subtle hazards like prejudice, greed and selfishness also lurk along our daily routes just waiting to inject their venom into unsuspecting passersby. It is imperative that we carefully examine our every step and diligently work to lead our children safely through these danger zones as well.

If I had knowingly led my children into peril, I could and should have been charged with endangerment. Many parents today, however, fail to realize how closely their kids are following their footsteps into hazardous lifestyles and dangerous situations. It is vital that moms, dads, teachers, coaches, athletes, entertainers, and others in positions of influence carefully choose their pathways, for many follow them for good or ill.

Let’s recognize these perils that are even more dangerous than poisonous snakes and make every effort not only to avoid them ourselves, but to help our children evade them also. Like the falls at the end of the trail, God has many good things in store for those who stay on Jesus’ pathway. If we’ve strayed, let’s ask him to lead us back. And let’s set good and godly examples with our each and every step for those who follow us. Stepping carefully, George

George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.