The Dung Beetle, the Cobra and the Present

From the Deck” series: Stories and lessons from a deck in South Africa.

I am blessed to live on a nature conservancy in the Lowveld in South Africa.  With the conservancy comes a variety of creatures, large and small, who also call the area home.  One of my smaller, more industrious neighbours is the dung beetle who I have a very soft spot for (do you know how much dung there would be in the world without these guys?).  Unfortunately our swimming pool is a roadside attraction for them on their travels and many find themselves in the deep end with no escape route.  This certainly doesn’t bode well for future dung elimination unless the resident lifeguard – me – is on duty.

Walking onto my deck at home yesterday while talking on my cell phone, I saw the usual distress signal of flaying legs coming from the pool.  I immediately made the save – still in conversation on my cell phone. Fishing the dung beetle out of the water, I walked to the edge of the deck to find my usual flat grassy beetle-recovery area.  I was deep in thought, pondering how to solve the issue on the call while also giving my attention to what this dung beetle could now do with a second chance in life.  I was focused on everything except what was going on right in front of me – a Mozambique Spitting Cobra ready to strike! 

Now the fact that my attention was a million miles away when I saw the snake made my reaction time much slower. Yes, only a millisecond slower before my fight or flight response kicked in, but slower nonetheless.  And my options were limited by the time I brought my attention to the present as danger was only a couple of metres away by this stage.  The m’Fesi (name for the snake in siSwati) certainly had the upper hand with enough time to spit if he/she had been that way inclined.  Fortunately for me, I was able to move away slowly – with the dung beetle now fully recovered and scratching furiously in my hand – out of harm’s way so my new not-so-friendly neighbour could continue his journey past me into the bush.

So What?

On reflection, what a gift this experience was. I was reminded yet again just how important it is to be anchored in the present.  I had far too much going on in that one moment on the deck and wasn’t able to see what was right in front of me.  How often in our lives are we so caught up that we miss the danger signs that are right in front of us – but also the joy signs, the opportunities, the lessons, our loved ones and our intuition.  We are so focused on rehashing what we can’t change from the past or worrying about what could transpire in the future that the present doesn’t even feature.  And if you stop to think about it, it is really only the here and now that we have any control over.

How can you ensure you don’t miss out on what is right in front of you?  I would love to hear about some of your experiences of living in the present.


  1. Gail Gilbert February 26, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Trace such a true valid story. I enjoyed reading it especially as I can picture the scene. It’s what I’ve been doing for a while now and I shouldn’t be. You must have nearly had a hearty right there and then. Just as well you never saw the cobra initially otherwise you might not have reacted as slowly as you did. Thank goodness you’re okay.

    1. Tracey McBain February 26, 2020 at 3:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience – and your concern for me 🙂 It was such a lesson of how we run through life without really being present. Hope to see you back on The Deck soon xx

      1. Erica Harnden February 28, 2020 at 7:55 pm

        What an amazing story Tracey. We all need these simple reminders to help us take a moment, pause life and see it for what it really is.
        I really enjoyed this.
        Thank you

        1. Tracey McBain March 2, 2020 at 8:54 am

          I am so glad you enjoyed the story. It certainly was a reminder for me to see life for what it is. I really appreciate your comments and interest, Erica.

  2. Elaine Meyer February 26, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Loved your story Tracey, so special to be in nature and enjoying what God gave us. I think if the snake needed saving you would have been there for him too. Glad your safe. Xx

    1. Tracey McBain February 27, 2020 at 6:15 am

      Nature is such an incredible teacher – and yes, I so enjoy living immersed in nature. Thanks so much for your comments, Elaine

  3. Lara Cross February 26, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    So beautifully written Trace, I could totally imagine that scene in my head.
    Why do we try to juggle so much…..any tips on how we stop ourselves from wandering so far away from the present would be helpful. I often wonder if our parents ever felt this busy!!

    1. Tracey McBain February 27, 2020 at 6:14 am

      Thank you so much for your comment – and words of encouragement. Will definitely include a blog post that speaks to “the how” of being in the present. It is a great suggestion – thanks.

  4. Lesley Unite February 27, 2020 at 4:43 am

    What a story, Tracey, do love your take out from it and your self awareness. Just a good reminder for me. Thank you and so glad the encounter went the way it did.

  5. Lesley Unite February 27, 2020 at 4:47 am

    What a story! Love your self awareness and the fact that you got such a great learning from it. Great lesson for me, thank you. Happy that the outcome was a positive one and you’re ok. Xx

    1. Tracey McBain February 27, 2020 at 6:17 am

      It was a huge wake up call, Les! We are so often rushing around we miss what is right in front of us. Thanks so much for your comments.

  6. Leigh February 27, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Absolutely loved this Trace! You definitely must keep on writing!

    1. Tracey McBain February 27, 2020 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks so much, Leigh.. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

  7. Liz Lilleby March 2, 2020 at 7:15 pm

    I was there too Trace!!
    Beautifully written!

    1. Tracey McBain March 5, 2020 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks so much, Liz. So appreciate your comments xx

  8. Ansuretha June 9, 2021 at 5:07 am

    Hi Tracey. So this is a great Beatle in the hand, snake in the bush story. I am looking forward to more ‘From the Deck’. It sure has been a very long time since I saw you. Lovely mindfulness story. Wishing you all the best! Ansuretha


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