In Which I (Mostly) Conquer My Fear of Snakes

Published 9:06 am Monday, June 26, 2017

By Kate Snyder

Contributing writer 

I don’t like snakes. Maybe my grandfather is to blame. He grew up in India and has incredibly goose-bump-inducing stories about encounters with cobras on jungle paths and mamba snakes found wrapped around rattan chairs. Or maybe it’s just that snakes are creepy.

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Despite my blanket objection to the creatures, I somehow found myself standing in the Grand Hall of the Community Arts Center with a corn snake wrapped around my neck last week, wondering which poor life choices had led me to this moment.

My aversion to snakes has been life-long. I have a clear memory of visiting a zoo as a child and encountering a zookeeper with a touchable snake. My mom was fascinated and tried in vain to convince me to touch the thing. I freaked out utterly, much to her frustration.

What’s interesting to me is the way that our fears are impacted by our circumstances. In addition to snakes, I am currently also afraid of the dark. And rats. And rats in the dark (shudder). However, once upon a time I didn’t have the luxury of indulging in some of those phobias. Back in the mid-2000s, I worked at a boarding school in India for a year. My house was a 15-minute hike up the mountain, through the jungle. And I mean through the jungle. We’re talking dirt paths, rhesus monkeys and actual, bona fide leopard sightings. I was 23  years old and I made the walk home, alone, after dark regularly with nothing but a walking stick and a headlamp. There weren’t any other options. And my house had rats. So I dealt with them.

I look back on those days with bewildered amazement. How on earth was I so brave? I don’t like taking my garbage cans to the curb at night because it always feels like something could be watching me from the shadows. I have no idea what, but I’m pretty sure it’s there. And the thought of emptying a mouse trap makes my palms sweat in terror. I think that perhaps when I lived abroad, those fears got pushed to the background out of sheer necessity.

These days, I don’t have to face down giant spiders, rats, aggressive monkeys or the threat of typhoid fever. I do have to watch my 6-year-old son learn to navigate the giant hill in our neighborhood on his bicycle. I find that pretty terrifying. Ditto for tree-climbing. These are the things that make a mother’s stomach clench.

But back to the snake. The reptile was a visitor to art camp and, having seen an entire room of elementary children gleefully snuggle with the scaly guest, my pride compelled me to join them. I couldn’t very well let a bunch of 9-year-olds show me up.

I’ll be perfectly honest. I didn’t care for the experience and have no plans to seek out reptilian companions any time in the near future. But it’s always a good feeling to confront something you’re afraid of and realize that you survived.

That said, I’m still carrying a flashlight with me when I put out the garbage tonight. Better safe than sorry.