Snakes and Platypus

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A long life prescription: ditch your routine and schedule in your chance encounters.

After fishing backcountry waters for two days, I packed up my waders, put on my hiking boots and began the couple mile trek back to the truck.  

The valley was treeless and golden. Tall late summer grasses carpeted the valley floor and the river looked like a dark mirror dividing the hills and haphazard patches of yellow flowers. The hills rose gently and the golden grasses gave way to barkless-grey-and-charred trees — leftover victims from devastating fires. The sky was a radiant blue only seen at high elevation.

In Australia, waders serve an important double purpose. They keep you warm and dry, and they keep you alive. Australia is teeming with venomous snakes hiding in knee high grass found along riverbanks. But thankfully, Australian snakes have tiny fangs that can’t penetrate your waders. 

Our last day in the backcountry, my fishing partner and I crossed paths with two brown snakes – the “aggressive ones.” Let’s say it heightens your senses. Taking your waders off, which usually feels liberating, suddenly feels risky. 

More so when you’re two strides short of the third brown snake on your waderless hike out. 


I grab my fishing companion, and it’s a good thirty seconds before I realize I still have him by the arm. Apparently, the harder I squeezed the safer we were. 

After letting the brown go on its merry way, a few steps later I hear, “Crikey, a platypus!” 

I must have jumped a foot. 

(Aussies I’ve met don’t actually say “crikey” but I threw that in there to highlight the excitement of my Aussie companion and the terror I felt.)

While male platypus are venomous – they have a sharp barb on their back haunches – they are 1,000 times more elusive than dangerous. Seeing one is a real treat. Almost stepping on one as we waded across a tiny mountain runoff creek is one-in-a-million-lucky. 

This little one, we couldn’t tell if it was male or female, was so cute peering out of our fishing net. It eyed us calmly, so we gave it a little pat on the head, then let it back into the water. It swam around, playing and eating.

I’m sure it gave us a wink at one point. 

It was a once in a lifetime experience. Most people feel lucky to spot a platypus rising in a river to take a breath, nevermind petting one. 

It’s these unexpected moments that make life so fun and rewarding. Snakes and platypus alike. 

But you have to be there.

You have to organize your chance encounters. You have to put probability in your corner.

A long life isn’t measured by the number of years we live, but by the number of big, vivid memories we can recall. A life of routine melds together, compacting time and shortening life. 

The antidote is to get out there.

Snake or platypus, you never know what you’re going to get.

Or in the parlance of the digital age: the unexpected and the heartfelt are what goes viral.

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Dave Shepherd

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