Snakes!... commentary from Jenny Philips

Snakes!... commentary from Jenny Philips

Jones County, NC – Snakes. Of course we are afraid of them. It's Biblical, the "enmity" with the serpent's seed. Or evolutionary. There is primate research that shows that baby monkeys are afraid of snakes or even crooked branches that might be snakes. I ve got that gene

I am terrified of snakes, all snakes, snakes secure in their glass terrariums at the zoo, photos of snakes in encyclopedias, the garden hose coiled in the grass. They all cause that "zero at the bone" that Emily Dickinson wrote about.

I have educated myself. I know that most snakes are beneficial. I know that even poisonous snakes want nothing to do with me. Even so, I once shrieked "I'm alright! I'm alright!" over and over because I had seen a snake, mentally identified it as harmless, but screamed anyway. The primal trumped the rational

Here there are many, many snakes. The good news is that a wild life officer spent 35 years tramping through the woods and was never bitten. The bad news is that a college student was bitten in his driveway at Chapel Hill. So it is clear we need a strategy.

In the olden days houses and gardens were surrounded by dirt paths that were raked every day so a snake's invasion would be traced in the dust. Not very practical now. Instead I make a lot of noise, stomping on the ground to warn the snakes that I'm coming and that I am way too big to eat. The snakes do not let me see them, and I do not have them killed. This has worked for 20 years almost without fail. When I have seen a snake, it freezes and I run inside for a few days.

Today was different. Sitting on the deck in the last bit of morning shade, I glanced up from my book and saw a slithering tail gliding around the bottom of one of the flower pots. The head doubled back and began to lap like a kitten at the tiny reservoir of water trapped at the edge of the pot. The snake was about 20 inches long and thicker than my thumb.

Just three feet away and too scared to move, I tucked my bare feet up under me and decided to watch. How had it gotten up on the 7' high deck? Would it stay? Could I bear it?

The snake wound around the pots stopping to drink the few drops of water it could find. It raised itself up so I could see a yellowish belly and long gray stripes on a greenish yellow ground. Its tongue flicked in and out.

My shade was fast disappearing and the snake was out of view. I stood up and peaked into the plants. The snake was leaving, weaving in and out of the lattice and was gone.

I hadn't screamed. I hadn't run. Why? I think that this snake charmed me by lapping water. It was hot and thirsty like me and that moment of empathy quelled my fear enough to stay and watch. Still I hope it never comes back, and from now on I will stomp! stomp as I go out the back door.