Don’t Fear the Creeper: When Snake Advice Fails You

Anyone who knows me knows am I deathly afraid of snakes.  Mortified.  Terrified.  Of course, snake lovers and conventional wisdom assure you: “They are more afraid of you than you are of them,” “They are anxious to avoid you.”  I beg to differ, but more on that later.

Rationally Irrational

How does one develop such a mortal fear?  I think a lot of it is just innate; man has not evolved to trust silent, stealthy, legless murderers. (Snake apologists, hear me out: whether they are killing people or rodents, you have to admit, they ARE murderers 🙂 ) A healthy dose of trauma did nothing to quell this natural aversion.

Come back with me to the early 1970s.  I’m a young girl growing up in rural Illinois.  We’ve got Big Wheels, tree forts, fireflies, and woods.  And garter snakes.  I have four brothers, and catching garter snakes in a bucket was a common pastime of theirs.

Another common pastime was throwing garter snakes at me as I ran screaming. (These are the same brothers who once asked me to play “cocoon” and proceeded to put me in a sleeping bag, wrap it with ropes, throw the end over a tree limb, and hoist me into the air to dangle, muted and suffocating. Would you trust these bastards?)

Bright Angel, Bright Devil

Thirty years later, it was this same mildly emotionally scarred woman who descended into the Grand Canyon. Again, the conventional wisdom whispered to me: “They are afraid of you,” “If they feel you coming, they will slither away.”

One evening I was tromping—more accurately stomping—confidently to the Bright Angel campground privy; surely my rugged Asolo boots would scatter the slithereens.  Which is precisely when I looked down to see a huge pink rattlesnake (unique to the Grand Canyon) crossing the path inches from my feet.  I screamed, turned tail, and ran all the way back to my campsite.  I believe, in my camper altruism, I also yelled “Incoming!” to the neighboring sites.  

I slept on the picnic table that night because, well, my tent was just too close to the ground, and the ground is just too close to snakes. Actually, I remained atop the picnic table the entire stay at that campground, asking my campmates to bring my food and supplies over to me, lest I have to touch the demon ground.

I was completely unfazed by the ringtail cat that snuck its way into my girlfriend DW’s pack that night and could not find its way out, panicked and writhing around with the pack swinging wildly on the pack hook.  That terrified DW nearly as much as the snake scared me.  I thought he was pretty cute.

Image via Creative Commons.

Arming Myself with Knowledge

I’m doing my due diligence and trying to learn snake identification.  I’m pretty confident with the solid-colored snakes and ribbon snakes.  It’s when you get those patterned suckers, like Massasauga, milk snake, northern water snake, rattlesnake, rat snakes, etc., that I am too terrified to stick around long enough to accurately ID.  I’d rather soil myself and ask questions later.

If you’re a snake expert, please hike with me.  Preferably in front of me.

Feature image courtesy of Matt Woodward via Facebook.

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