I have never been a fan of snakes. Like most people I have a bit of ophidiophobia- fear of snakes, I generally avoid the reptile house at the zoo. I tend to look away from snake charmers in old movies about India. One of my favorite childhood stories was Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling- the story of a mongoose who, thankfully, eats snakes.
So I was shocked, and more than a little dismayed, when I found myself eye-to-eye (separated by a sliding glass door) with a long black snake with a white stripe that chalked his belly from tail to “chin.” We locked eyes. He seemed to be satisfying his curiosity about me and the contents of my family room. I, in turn, was drawn to his black, alien eyes, scaly body, and flickering tongue. I was both fascinated and repelled. I think he felt the same way about me. We had our moment of connection. Even sixty somethings can stretch a bit and figuratively “allow in” something new and mysterious (Though, clearly, this would never have happened without the glass door between us). Bored within five minutes, he slithered off. My very first snake. I named him Slinky.
I darted to my computer to learn what I could about him. I think he was a Maryland Rat Snake, a mild mannered snake who eats rodents like mice and rats and is shy and harmless to people. In turn, these snakes are an important food source for hawks, owls, and herons. Some of my neighbors say they have seen my snake, or a family member, slithering through the long grass in the common area. So, he may be back to see me some day. Like Emily Dickenson, my welcome will still be accompanied by “a tighter breathing, And zero at the bone.”
A narrow fellow in the grass
You may have met him, -did you not?
His notice sudden is.
The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.
He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,
Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,-
When stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.
Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone. `Emily Dickenson
I believe the fear of snakes is in our DNA. Must come from our days living and sleeping in trees. Most of us simply retreat anxious about their potential for harm. Nevertheless, they are curious and wondrous creatures.