“Little snakes need to grow in hiding.” – Haitian proverb

”Instead of expending time to train yourself not to be afraid of snakes, avoid them altogether.” – Richard Koch

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When I went home for lunch last Tuesday, I walked outside with the dogs who live at my house. It was warm, but there was a nice breeze, and I thought how great it would be to sit outside all afternoon with a book.

Then I saw it. A stick? A reed? A long, slender bit of trash?

It was, in fact, a snake – something for which I have no great fondness. However, I did not panic. I simply walked up onto the deck, snapped a photo of the visiting reptile with my phone, got the dogs back into the house and headed back to work.

I posted the photo on Facebook and quickly learned the posing snake was a garter snake, also known as a ribbon snake. Non-poisonous.

I grew up with a mother who feared snakes terribly. She was from Arizona where rattlesnakes were plentiful. I ought to have understood that kind of fear. After all, I feel that way about rodents – no matter how small. My grandmother used to laugh at me and say, “those mice are more afraid of you than you are of them.” She had no clue.

Here’s a confession: There were times I’d show Mom a picture of a snake in a magazine or book just to see her reaction. I regret that now. Karma’s coming.

When I worked at the Vicksburg Evening Post, I had a call one day from a guy out in the county who told me he was a herpetologist and had a house filled with snakes. I assumed he had a zoology degree from a reputable university. I was wrong.

He was a herpetologist because he liked to keep snakes. He was a herpetologist because he decided to label himself a herpetologist.

When I arrived at his house, a double-wide mobile home, we talked for a while before he took me back to a room lined floor to ceiling with glass cages containing coiled and crooked snakes. They came from all over the world and were beautifully colored.

I felt no fear until he told me the rumbling coming from the closet behind me was the rats he fed the snakes.

I knelt down closely to one of the most rare and most beautiful of the snakes to photograph it. Snake Guy, my host, lifted the glass so there’d be no reflection. Nothing stood between the coiled reptile and me but about two feet.

Snake Guy stood beside me with a snake stick clinched in his right hand. I focused and shot several photos, noticing the snake moved slightly each time the camera would flash.

Finally I finished and Snake Guy slammed the glass before saying these memorable words: “It’s a good thing it didn’t strike and bite you ‘cause you’d have been dead before you could get to a hospital.”

Perhaps that’s why, all these years later, I’m not able to make much room in my heart for these slinking, slithering snakes.

Before I left Snake Guy’s reptile house that day, he asked if I wanted to hold a snake – one that did not have the power to render me lifeless.

I allowed him to place a snake in my hands, and as it crawled slowly around and up my arm, Snake Guy took my photo. When it was developed later that day, the photo showed my blue shirt, my hands and the snake in my grasp, but Snake Guy had cut my head out of the photo.

I could not brag about my snake-handling bravery because no one would believe it was I in the picture.

But I knew those hands holding that reptile belonged to me. And that’s all that really mattered.

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