By Alvin Richardson
I have courage but it has definite limits. I’ve pulled a couple of guys out of a car that was about to catch on fire and worked relentlessly to put out a dangerous inferno set by my Daddy in our pasture and woods. I could identify numerous feats of heroism by yours truly but it would only seem boastful, especially in light of what I will soon tell you.
Fact is I have an unreasonable fear of snakes. I don’t like live ones, dead ones or pictures of them. When a snake strike is suddenly depicted at the movies, I’m the guy you hear hopping out of his seat and squealing. I know you must think me silly. A country boy, outdoorsman, and heroic figure like myself afraid of these harmless creatures. Sad but true.
I blame Mama in part for this phobia. Every day of our lives we had to wear “snake boots” if we were going outside – even just to play in the relative safety of the yard. Her rationale went something like this: If you ever run into one of those dastardly, evil serpents just one time you’ll be glad you had them on.
My imagination constantly ran wild thinking about the agony that getting snake bit might cause, but I cannot recall even one close encounter with a snake in my youth. Nonetheless, we constantly wore those rubber boots that made our feet sweat mightily and thus that seed of fear was firmly planted in my mind.
In my adult years I’ve had numerous casual encounters with rattlesnakes, water mocs, and just plain old brown-colored snakes. Those chance meetings did nothing but reinforce my fear. I consider rattlers the gold standard of snakedom. Their reputation as malevolent creatures bent on preying upon the innocent is much deserved in my mind. and I am always on the lookout for them while stomping through the woods or running my weed eater. I think I’d probably keel over dead with a heart attack if I stepped on one.
It goes without saying that snake identification is not one of my hobbies. I am aware of the physical differences of poisonous and non-poisonous reptiles but that information is not helpful in my case.
For instance pit vipers (poisonous) in our part of the country have elliptical shaped eyes and non-venomous snakes have round eyes. The problem with this is that if I spot one I’m not looking anywhere near his eyes. In fact, he’s probably getting a good look at my behind as I exit the location. One can also determine if a snake is poisonous or non-poisonous by checking out the under tail scaling pattern. A single row of scaling under the tail indicates a poisonous snake. I’ve never really understood the logic here. I mean get real. Same thing with the anal plate. Come on now, who in their right mind is going to try to sneak a peek at a snake’s anal parts in order to determine if it’s lethal or not. With these things in mind, you can see why I’ve never put in a lot of time into identification techniques.
I do, however, typically use two simple common sense rules concerning serpent encounters. If it is more than a foot long and crawls on its belly, one should leave without delay. If it rattles, apply the same rule and change clothes once you have reached safety.
I’ve documented the origins of my youthful fear of snakes. Those fears might have been overcome eventually but unfortunately I married a woman who is more afraid of them than I am. Without going into the grisly details, just suffice to say that Laura is terrified of them to the point of being schizophrenic. I do not know, nor will she discuss, from whence her irrational dread stems. It is a topic that is off limits.
I will say this, my wife’s attitude toward snakes plus my traumatic early years have cemented an affliction that will most likely always be with me. I do not believe that I’ll ever conquer my demons or be able to venture into the woods without thinking of what might attack me (especially if I don’t have my snake boots on).
I wish I was more like my hero John Wayne. His bravery knew no boundaries as do mine. The old rat killer (True Grit or was it Rooster Cogburn?) never lacked for courage no matter the situation. Outnumbered, no problem. Just ride right into the bad guys with guns blazing. Bad sheriff. Challenge him to a duel in the street. Rattlesnake in camp. Cut the varmint in half with one casual shot from his pistol or pick him up by his tail and calmly get rid of him – and then go back to his whiskey bottle.
Unfortunately I am not blessed with that true grit when it comes to snake handling and / or extermination. Guess I’ll just have to keep on running – or keep a bottle of whiskey handy. I’m such a coward.