May 6, 2013

I found a charcoal-colored, three foot long redbelly snake in the woods today. It lay straight as a ruler in the path. I had to relocate it so someone wouldn’t step on it. I kneeled and touched its tail and it wheeled and bit me on the hand. No harm, no foul. Best not stress a snake even if it’s not a threat. I picked it up on a stick and relocated it into some deadwood. All was well.

We are born with the fear of snakes. Somewhere in our reptilian brain stems lurks a universal memory of our two million year old ancestors, watchful at night in their tree nests, sabertooth tigers below, waiting for falling babies, serpents climbing the trees.

My stepdaughter Angelina, then ten, was freaked by snakes until she went with me to summer camp and met a charismatic herpetologist, who, by week’s end, got Nina to carry multiple snakes on her neck and arms, showing off the retiles and telling people about them.

We have an urge to purge wild things—unless they’re cute and cuddly. In the bad old days, men used to park their cars on a certain road in the Shawnee National Forest, take out bats and sticks and entertain their families by slaughtering migrating rattlesnakes crossing the road. Today, cars still gather, but families stand and watch the migration with reverence and awe.

Snakes (serpents) and wolves got the worst raps of the animal kingdom. There is the alleged deal in Eden, and once dogs evolved, their noble ancestors lived in secrecy. We are as much superstition and myth, as science.

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