A long-standing policy
was established at our house to help me deal with my phobia.
Why would an intelligent
young woman move into a house that is likely to be surrounded by the
things the woman fears most? I have asked myself that question many
times in the thirty-nine years we have lived in our old house in the
I am not a country girl by
nature. I grew up in densely populated suburbs. When I was young, my
father wanted to expose me to the joys of country living. He bought
rural land to use as a weekend retreat. Thatís where I
encountered snakes and my phobia was born. They were just harmless
garter snakes, but they gave me the creeps and sent me into fits of
Why did I buy and move
into a house in the country where garter snakes are likely to abound?
Common sense did not rule that decision. My husband and I were young
and eager to be homeowners. The house and property had enticing
features that blinded me to the reality of facing my fear every day.
Soon after we moved in, we
started to see garter snakes on the property. A long standing-policy
was established; DONíT ASK, DONíT
TELL. I wonít ask if youíve seen
a snake. I donít want to know. Just quietly PLEASE dispose of
it. Donít tell me when you see one, and I wonít ask if
youíve seen one.
The reality of sharing my
property with snakes was becoming all too real. They werenít
always underfoot, but just the possibility of encountering a snake
made me hesitant to step outside. I was frustrated that such a small
creature was controlling my life. Out of desperation, I invented some
unusual ways of doing things. When I needed to work in the vegetable
garden, I rode my bike across the yard to the garden. I felt safer on
my bike because my feet werenít touching the ground and I could
scan the ground around me from my perch on the bike seat.
When I needed to go
outside, I hollered a warning to the snakes, ďLook out snakes,
here I come!Ē I knew this was ridiculous, but hollering
If I suspected a snake was
in the bushes, I threw things in the bushes to scare it away. If that
didnít work, I threw my cat in the bushes. The cat didnít
appreciate being used as a snake wrangler. All I accomplished was
littering the ground around the bushes and annoying the cat. The
snake lived on to frighten me another day.
I felt less afraid if
someone was with me when I went outside. My husband and children were
good companions. They are not afraid of snakes like I am. My children
are afraid of spiders. Iím glad I have never been afraid of
spiders. Spiders are seen more often than snakes.
The possibility of
encountering snakes was always on my mind when I ventured outside. I
scanned the ground and stepped cautiously. They could be lurking in
bushes, or camouflaged in grass at my feet, or hiding in the
woodpile. They might be waiting to sneak up on me around a corner,
or slithering in the garden. Like bullies, snakes interfered with my
enjoyment of life. Even snake-like things triggered my fear. Hoses on
the ground and suspicious looking sticks frightened me. Any
unexpected movement or noise made me jump and shriek. My fear
controlled me and forced me to change my plans. It was an
inconvenience. I couldnít do the things I wanted and needed to
do outside. I had a fantasy that snakes could be injected with a
tracking device so I would know where they were. I imagined they
could be painted with a fluorescent coating so they couldnít
hide and startle me. I wished they were outfitted with a motion
sensor that would alert me when I was near them. Maybe a mutation
could change their chemistry and they would be born with a strong
scent so I could detect them from afar.
My occupation away from
home was teaching at an elementary school. I thought the job of
elementary school teacher would be a snake free profession. I was
wrong. Snakes fascinate children. There are pictures of snakes,
rubber snakes, plastic snakes, and real snakes in school. They come
to school in backpacks, in library books, in classroom books, and in
zoo mobiles. The library has a shelf full of snake books. When a boy
is reading a library book, it is often a snake book. They love to
show me the ďcoolĒ pictures. We go on field trips to
nature centers and zoos to see snakes. One time I was with a class on
a walking field trip, and there was a garter snake right on the
sidewalk. Then thereís the first grade science unit on
earthworms. I have to handle those creepy, crawly, wiggly, slithery
worms. I try not to notice the resemblance, but in my imagination, an
earthworm is just a growth spurt away from being a snake. Who knew I
would see so many snakes in an elementary school?
The foundation of our old
house is made of large stones. When we had lived at the house for
about ten years, a fateful day came when a new chapter began in my
life with snakes. Apparently, large stones held together with old
mortar make a convenient ground level entrance into the basement of
our house. I had one of the worse reactions of my life the day I
first saw a snake in the basement. It was my worst nightmare. I was
afraid the snake could climb stairs and terrify me anywhere in the
house. I had always considered the house to be a safe haven from the
snakes. Now, there was no place that was safe.
I gave the snakes names
that associated them with an event or time of year. The Southwest
Snake was heading in a southwesterly
direction toward the foundation of the house. He made it to the
foundation before being caught.
Snake was an unwelcome winter visitor.
I always let my guard down in winter because
snakes hibernate. The stones in the basement walls made a cozy place
to hibernate. It was creepy to know they were hiding there, but at
least they were asleep, and I couldnít see them. One February,
I accidentally woke up a snake when I ran a vacuum in the basement.
That was the last time I vacuumed in the basement.
on the Stairs was memorable. I was on my way
up the basement stairs. The snake was on a step above me. There was
no choice but to step around it. I bolted up the stairs in record
I met the Freezer
Door Snake when I needed something from the
freezer in the basement. It must have been something important.
Against my better judgment, I ventured down the stairs. As I opened
the freezer door and grabbed what I needed, I saw a snake at my feet.
I shrieked and fled up the stairs in a panic, leaving the freezer
door wide open. The next day someone discovered the door was open.
Fortunately, none of the food was ruined.
I wish I did not know
about the Kitchen Snake. In
direct violation of the ďDonít Ask, Donít TellĒ
policy, my son told me he caught a snake in the kitchen. I would
never have known about it if he hadnít told me. What next? It
was disturbing enough that snakes were outside and in the basement.
Now, a snake invaded my kitchen. The upstairs living areas of our
house were my last strongholds. Now there was truly no safe place.
I found the
St. Patrickís Day Snake in the dining
room on March 17th.
Lucky me! Why couldnít I find a pot of gold? St. Patrick is
said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland. I wish someone
could drive them out of my house and yard.
I donít remember
every single snake Iíve ever seen, but I know they are seen
more often in the spring and fall seasons. The
Spring Snakes, with their offspring, slither
out of hibernation to look for a home. The Fall
Snakes explore my house and yard to find a
cozy place to spend the winter. Snakes arenít on the move as
much in summer, but Iíve seen plenty of Summer
Snakes, probably because I spend more time
outside in summer. The only Mid-Winter Snake
Iíve ever seen is the February Snake
that I charmed out of hibernation with my vacuum. I hate the snow and
cold in winter, but I love the freedom from snakes.
This story does not have a
happy ending, except to say I claim a victory in knowing Iíve
stuck it out with my nemesis for thirty-nine years. I win because the
snakes did not drive me away from my home.
Ask, Donít TellĒ policy is still in effect.
There are fewer snakes
now, but even one is too many for me. I still step outside hesitantly
and scan the ground around me. I still shriek when I see a snake, but
my hysterical fits are not as severe. Iím too old to have the
energy for hysterics.
The snakes will outlast us
on our country property. I hope the next owners of our house will
appreciate the snakes. Maybe future owners will even welcome them as
pets. You are welcome to them.
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)