The Greedy Snake: A Debt Parable

In the heart of the world-famous red-rock country of Southern Utah, about five miles from what is presently the entrance to Zion National Park, lies the small town of Rockville, Utah.  On January 20, 1863, not long after the town was settled by hardy Mormon pioneers, my great-grandfather, Jacob Heathcote Langston, was born.  Family legend has it that he was the first baby born in the struggling new town.    

Rockville is located in a narrow valley carved out of the sandstone by the Virgin River, the process accelerated by periodic violent flash floods.  The town is flanked on both sides by towering red-rock cliffs several hundred feet high.  In this beautiful but harsh environment the pioneers struggled to grow enough food to survive.    

As a young boy one of Jacob’s chores was taking water to his father, John, as he worked in the fields.  One day while performing this task Jacob discovered a snake stuck in a knothole in a wooden fence.  The snake had eaten a gopher, stuck its head through the knothole, and then eaten another gopher.  The snake was trapped, unable to escape by going either frontwards or backwards. 

Jacob was intrigued by the predicament of the snake.  He knew he needed to be about his work but he couldn’t leave the snake without giving him a good talking to.  So Jacob sat down next to the snake, had a good laugh, and told it that it got exactly what it deserved for being so greedy.                

The Greedy Snake and Debt

Snakes need to eat.  We cannot blame the snake for eating the first gopher.  It is what snakes do to survive.  The greedy snake’s mistake was eating the second gopher after already putting itself in a precarious situation. 

So it is with debt.  All debt takes away some future freedom.  And yet most of us will have to use debt at some point in our lives in order to reach worthy objectives like buying a house or getting an education.  The key is to avoid going into too much debt for these necessities, and then to avoid compounding the problem with credit card debt after already placing ourselves in a dangerous spot.  If we are not careful we can easily find ourselves trapped like the greedy snake; stuck in a debt knothole and unable to escape by going either frontwards or backwards.     

Remember the Greedy Snake

Jacob Heathcote Langston never forgot the lesson he learned as a young boy from the greedy snake, and he passed the story on to his children.  The story reached me through his daughter (my grandmother), Sarah Langston White Adams, in an oral history she did several years before her death.      

I have since shared the story with my children, so several generations of our family have benefited from the painful lesson learned by the unfortunate snake.  And so I pass it on to you.  The next time you are tempted to take on too much debt recall the vivid image of the greedy snake, trapped in the knothole, and stop yourself before you eat the second gopher.      

  2 comments for “The Greedy Snake: A Debt Parable

  1. Kirk P.
    February 11, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Cool story. I like the analogy and the visual that it creates.

    • Brent Esplin
      February 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks Kirk. Glad you enjoyed it. I have always loved that story. The visual image of the snake caught in the knothole with my great-grandfather preaching to him always makes me laugh, and it is a great reminder of the dangers of too much debt.

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