From Debilitating Fear to Love

My Saga With Snakes

Fear of Snakes is one of the most common phobias. From mild repulsion to extreme reactions — from screaming to fainting — most people react negatively to Snakes.

Is it because they are so different from the rest of us vertebrates, gliding effortlessly despite the absence of limbs or fins? Is it bad press and superstition since time immemorial? The fact is that of some 3000 species of Snakes worldwide fewer than 15% are venomous.

Facts don’t matter to people like me whose fear of Serpents ranked somewhere between screaming and turning to stone. Once I was returning to my car and the only way over the tangled sand-dune vegetation was a narrow trail I had successfully walked over a few hours earlier. But now, to my left I spotted a coiled Copperhead. She was venomous, I knew, but that didn’t matter; had she been a Gartersnake I would have done the same: run back to the beach and look around for some man to carry me over that only exit.

My aversion didn’t improve until one fateful Sunday morning that would nearly become my last. On the kitchen floor there was a small Snake, courtesy of one of my Cats who dragged her up from the basement. This time I screamed.

A Black-Necked Gartersnake explores a yard.
A Black-Necked Gartersnake explores a yard.

My husband responded to the unnatural howl, but he laughed when he realized my panic was due to a harmless Gartersnake. Putting her out in the backyard was too close for my comfort; pets on the loose, neighbors, and pesticides didn’t augur well for her. He offered to put the Snake in a coffee jar so I could release her in a field out of town on my way to work.

It took courage I didn’t know I had to agree to the insane plan, but my respect for life won and I allowed him to put the jar — breathing holes properly drilled in the lid — on the passenger seat. At 5 am on a weekend an unconfined glass container by the driver didn’t raise any alarms in our sleepy minds.

I set off in the quiet dawn and just two blocks away from home I fearfully glanced over at the jar. The lid had come off and I saw the Snake as she was falling onto the floor. I hit the brake with force… only that in a state of absolute terror I hit the gas instead. My Toyota Corolla wrapped around a utility pole and I was severely injured. Shattered glass from the coffee jar had severed my carotid artery. Still conscious, I watched my blood spurting like a geyser from my neck.

I would have lasted but a few minutes in sleeping Tulsa, Oklahoma, had an old man sipping his first cup of coffee not heard the crash through the kitchen window. He called an ambulance which dispatched from a hospital just one block away. I received a transfusion just in time.

When the ambulance medic dropped by my hospital room two days later — those were the days of chivalry — I asked him whether he or anyone else had found “the Snake.” As if the medic knew the genesis of the crash! As if anyone could see a small Snake in the site of a wreckage! Of course, nobody had seen a Snake. And I found myself hoping that she survived and somehow made it safely away from the street.

Was that an epiphany?

Two weeks in the hospital with multiple broken bones, vocal cords severed, and residual impairment of some of my abilities forever beg the question: Could any Snake cause more damage than my fear of them had done? Not a Gartersnake to be sure, but very few others and not any native to Oklahoma.

Life continued and I didn’t dwell on the mistakes my husband and I made leading to the accident. Nor did I run into any Snakes until one sunny morning. I was reading in my backyard and not far from my feet, on the grass, I saw two Gartersnakes entwined with each other. I had never seen such a thing, but I knew what it was, and I was filled with wonderment and compassion that those two individuals were furthering their kind and, yes, loving each other. It was so clear to me, so beautiful, and I was free.

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