When I was young my mother and father built our family home on a piece of farmland in Delaware (the second smallest state in the nation). Since there were three children we were responsible for “doing the dishes”. In case you don’t know what that is, it means that after dinner we were responsible for washing, drying, and putting away the dinner dishes.
One spring evening my sisters and I were about to embark on our dishwashing duties. My mother noticed I did not have shoes on and told me to go and put a pair on before I helped with the after-dinner task. Merrily I meandered into my bedroom, not watching where I was going, I stepped on something slimy and slithery and it dashed into my closet. I screamed, ran into the kitchen yelling about the snake. All three girls ran out of the house and ran circles around my parents in the garden, yelling about the snake. We wouldn’t return to the house until my father captured the poor wee garden snake and killed it.
I have no doubt that my fear of snakes began at that moment. I have been known to go out of my way to move around a snake. It is not unusual for me to turn around on a hike when I encounter a slithering thing on the trail, especially one with rattles. I am wary of snakes. I will never put a snake of any sort on my shoulders. I will never hold one, although I have touched a few.
One time I was hiking in the Tetons with a good friend, Diane. We hiked the Cascade Trail into the heart of the Mountains, our destination a lake. We were sitting on a log, dangling our feet in the lake when I looked down and there were these squiggly things all around our legs. Watersnake hatchlings!! Oh my!! My breath quickened. I told Diane my fear of snakes, so we moved to the rocky shore, only to discover more small slithery things among the rocks. I finally told Diane I had to go. So we hiked out. After were safely back at the campsite my hiking companion told me that she had seen more of those little things on the hike out. Remembering that still can cause a catch in my breath.
I have had other encounters with snakes since then and I admit to being a bit better with the confrontation of those sneaky reptiles. I have encouraged myself to learn about them. l have researched them and read about them. I know all the good they can do. They are an important part of all ecosystems. With the San Diego Zoo close to my home for many years, I would often go to visit. I always made sure to go to the Reptile House. I figure that it would help me get over my fear. I figure they were safe behind glass. Then Harry Potter came into the picture and I have to admit, I hope the glass holds when I go into the “Snake” House.
While in South Africa Phyllis and I got to see some really colorful snakes at one of our stops early on the trip. They are pretty and colorful. Even there I had to tell Phyllis after a short time that I needed to leave. One of them coiled and jumped towards the glass and that was it. I had enough. Ah, snakes!
Why am I telling you this? I was kayaking on Cascade Lake and the North Fork of the Payette River earlier this week. I was paddling north enjoying the birds and the dragonflies and all the nature around me. Suddenly I saw a small head moving across the water. Quickly I realized it was a small (very small snake). I turned around and began to paddle towards it. I wanted to look at it. As I turned to do so, it turned right towards my boat. Instantly fear took over and I went into flight or fight mode. My heart rate picked up. I was sure that the snake was going to swim to my boat and get in. I panicked and turned that kayak around and paddled as hard as I could to get away from it. It felt like I paddled hard for five minutes or more. However, I think I paddled hard for maybe a minute at most. That little tiny snake was not going to get me. Why did it have to turn and swim toward my boat? Once I was sure that the little wiggly thing was not behind me I slowed down and continued to enjoy my morning. I kept an eye out for all things squiggly for the rest of the kayak.
Fear of snakes, Fear of spiders, Fear of water, whatever the fear, it is not rational. These are phobias and most of us live with one or more of them. I know my fear of snakes is not rational. I know I can control the situation. I have proven that to myself in the past. On the river, I did not prove myself to be brave and fearless. That little snake made me realize I still have more work to do.
What are you afraid of?