I did not come by my aversion to snakes naturally. This aversion happened over time, slowly, through various moves with my family.
Living in Chicago, I never saw a snake unless there was an exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium. Snakes were never part of the conversation of “things to watch out for.”
When I was 10, we moved to a small town in West Tennessee. Snakes suddenly became part of everything I heard. Snakes were something to fear, to dread, to watch out for even outside or inside the house.
“If a snake is wrapped around your leg, run to the house.”
“The only good kind of snake is a dead snake.”
“Snakes have teeth and there are several kinds that will do everything they can to come and get you.”
“It does not matter if they are poisonous or not. All snakes bite.”
I went to the library and checked out a snake book. Snakes like to coil up. Their necks stretch upright before they strike. Some snakes are camouflaged in the grass and in the leaves. Sometimes you don’t see a snake until you are right on top of it. If you see one, you had better run and go the other way.
My grandpa, a truck farmer, did not help alleviate my fear once we got to Tennessee. As we drove down the road to go work at his farm, he would yell out the car window to folks walking down the side of the road or out in the field.
“Watch out! You are going to get snake bit!”
Was this for real? What kind of fresh hell had we moved to?
I watched for snakes out at the farm and only picked the peas or tomatoes that were close to the top of the vines. I did not care if my brother Kris picked the most to win the praise and the Popsicle at the end of the day. There was no way I was sticking my hand down that close to the ground. Something could be lurking and twined up, unhinging their jaws for a taste.
I quickly learned the names of these West Tennessee snakes. There are 34 kinds of snakes in Tennessee. Four of the most poisonous snakes could be out in my backyard. Copperhead, cottonmouth, and two kinds of rattlesnake. They all moved in a serpentine fashion. They slithered and came at you with their mouths open and fangs exposed. When I thought about them, they were always in my face.
Even going to the lake was hazardous. When the family went canoeing at Reelfoot Lake, I figured I was safe enough to drop my snake watch. Then a snake flung itself from a tree into the water not one foot from the boat. The first of many items to mark off of my never going to do that again list.
When we moved to Saudi Arabia, there were other kinds of snakes to watch out for: the king cobra and the sea snake.
I did not worry too much about the king cobra. It seems the cobra is a timid and shy, albeit, deadly snake. Then we got the phone call to be on the lookout. A nest of cobras were moving from the desert to the town at such a speed that at cloud of sand could be seen from a mile away.
This was before Google so I had to let my imagination do the thinking. I stayed indoors, sitting on the kitchen counter until the all clear was sent. Kris periodically came in and made hissing noises at me, which did not help.
Later that week, I took my little brother Mark out snorkeling in the Arabian Gulf. We were almost to a floating dock stationed about a fourth of a mile from shore when I looked down. Floating not three feet away was a sea snake. I knew sea snakes could not open their mouths widely as other snakes, and typically aim towards appendages in order to strike. Our feet were covered with flippers but our hands were exposed. I grabbed my little brother, put him on my back, and proceeded to set some sort of salt-water-to-sand speed record than can never be reproduced. Of course, no body was there to see this except for my little brother, the SNAKE, and me. Check going to the floating dock off of the list.
Green, black, coral, with yellow stripes, with diamonds, with rattles, with both diamonds and rattles; there are too many snakes to keep up with. They all, in my mind, are deadly poisonous vipers with venom and boa constrictor-like tendencies.
Even when I watch movies the snakes are there. There are obvious movies I have not seen. “Anaconda.” Nope. “Snakes On A Plane.” No way. In some of my favorite movies such as “Chamber of Secrets” or the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” I have to shield my eyes and resist the urge to flee. The scene from “True Grit” where Maddie gets bit by a rattler and Rooster Cogburn tries to save her arm still gives me the heebie-jeebies.
I now live on Snake Pond Road. Seems the pond where the snakes hang out is just a stone’s throw from our house. I have seen the snake holes and heard the “sssssstttt” in the yard. I watch them on the driveway, on the road, in the grass and on my porch. They are there, coiled up, moving sinuously, and waiting for me.
I am moving to Ireland next. No snakes are there I hear.