See that creek right over there—the one beside my house? The one that’s less than ten feet away, lined with trees, and about three acres long? There are snakes there. A lot of snakes. More than I’ve ever seen in one place—besides the zoo—in all my life.
And I live beside it.
I am terrified of snakes—horrifically and thoroughly terrified—but for no good reason.
Psychologists say babies are born with just two fears and they are simply reactionary: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. All other fears must be learned somewhere else in a person’s lifetime, which makes sense.
My mother was afraid of snakes, too. But what’s interesting is that I can only remember one instance I was around her when we saw a snake. She freaked out, backing up and screaming. Her fear came from her childhood, she said, when she and her siblings encircled a blue racer in their yard to look at it. The snake went straight toward her to get away. Understandable fear.
But mine? Not so much—it originated as a mimicked fear but now is so ingrained, it is my own. Ophidiophobia.
In fact, I am even afraid that one day I will be cruising the winding roads of my countryside neighborhood, enjoying the breeze with windows down and sunroof open, when a snake falls through the opening, dropped by a hawk in the sky above.
No, that’s not irrational. It could happen.
Last summer, as I rounded a corner heading home, I saw a hawk lifting off from a field, snake dangling precariously from its beak. My sunroof was closed, thank God, but I remember thinking, “I knew it was possible!”
I wonder what the chances are. Google can’t tell me, so I’ll keep the sunroof closed.
When we moved to our home more than seven years ago, I guess I didn’t really think about living thisclose to my worst fear’s natural habitat. It was November, after all.
But then it turned spring.
One weekend afternoon, Jackson was weed eating, and I was potting flowers on the edge of the front porch, when out of the corner of my left eye I spied a squiggling grayish brown monster moving toward me. I screamed and jumped, dirt flying everywhere. I hollered and wailed, tears starting immediately. I sobbed, petrified, my heart about to come out of my chest, when Jackson, my hero, stepped in and scared the snake away under a bush until he could use the rake to throw it into the nearby creek.
But there were more after that. (Clearly, snakes are inferior to dogs, who can pass along messages like the Twilight Bark in “101 Dalmations.”)
Jackson saw them in the creek and out by the road and up in the field, as well as in the back flower bed. Once, one even slithered its way over the newly laid rocks of our driveway and in front of the powerful, new Husqvarna mower I was sitting atop. I shut my eyes and turned the machine around, almost frozen by fear . . . of a tiny garter snake.
Since we got rid of the compost pile where they thrived, holy shit, I think they live under or around our shed for the most part, the one I’ve named Snakeville. And if there’s an implement in it I need to use, I can assure you I won’t be the one retrieving it. Usually Jackson just laughs and does it, but I’m consider teaching Bruno, my trusty Pitbull, snake killer, bestie to do it.
Bruno knows me, and he’s got my back. He knows that when I step off the deck in warm weather and flip flops to head to the garden, we will travel that long 30 yards together, just in case I need him. Because, I remind him, “every stick has potential.”
I guess I have come to the realization that I have no choice in participating in the exposure “therapy” of my home. But I also thought over time, I could handle it.
I was wrong.
I never get used to seeing snakes—whether walking out to get the mail, to check my tomato plants, or to weed the flower beds. And now, it’s almost time for them to start re-appearing again, those lovely brown garters that wiggle wherever they want.
So let’s be clear: “Just don’t look for them,” is not sound advice—at all. Not pour moi.
Nor will I ever believe that a snake is more afraid of me than I am of it.
I guess the exposure therapy will continue. Here goes.