In Which I (Mostly) Conquer My Fear of Snakes

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.

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.