Lessons learned about snakes

Have you ever had the feeling that someone or something is watching you?

Have you ever had the feeling that someone or something is watching you?

I remember one time when I was a kid. I was fishing with my cousin Charlie and we were both lying on a big, flat rock, with our fishing rods stretched out over a deep pool that always held the promise of a couple of nice trout.

We were lying on our stomachs and I remember how the warm sun felt on the back of my neck – it sort of sent a shiver through my whole body. That was when I suddenly got the feeling that something was there, watching me. I turned my head to the side and saw a garter snake about three feet away. It was completely motionless except for its tongue that was flickering back and forth. It was sensing me by sensing the air between us.

I too remained motionless. I found myself staring into its eyes for what seemed like several minutes, although, in reality, it was probably only a matter of several seconds.

Then it slithered off into the nearby grass and disappeared.

When I told Charlie about what had just happened, he said something like “cool” or “neat,” and just kept on fishing.

After a few minutes he asked what kind of snake it had been and I replied by saying I was pretty sure that it was a garter snake. He said it was more likely a gopher snake, like the kind that were sometimes under the steps in our grandmother’s root cellar.

In nature, snakes do not bother me. Under those steps I figured they were more likely to be rattle snakes, coiled and ready to strike at the ankles of any unsuspecting young kid who had been sent down to get a bottle of pickled beets or crab apple jam.

My point in relating these incidents is that I have always been more fascinated with snakes than apprehensive of them. That was why I had remained so motionless that day by the creek, so that the snake would not try to escape and I could get a really good look at it.

Snakes seem to have gotten a bad rap over time, at least in our Western culture. Maybe it goes back to the whole Adam and Eve thing in the Garden of Eden.

The old cowboy movies, where some guy in a white cowboy hat and a pearl-handled six gun shoots a rattler just as it is about to strike at the heroine, didn’t do much for the snake’s reputation either.

Any way you look at it, instead of admiring such beautiful creatures, too many kids nowadays are more likely to be frightened of a snake and run away from it or, worse, they might grab a stick and try to kill it. I have witnessed drivers swerve to run over a snake crossing a road.

Another time when I was a kid, I was out riding my bike and I saw a friend of mine up ahead. We would sometimes go fishing together.

As I was trying to catch up to him I saw him swerve at the last second and ride right over a garter snake that was sunning itself along the trail that led down to the creek.

He sped off while I stopped and got off my bike to look at he snake. Its back appeared broken but it was still alive.

I picked it up and sat under a tree looking at it, hoping it would somehow repair itself and I could return it to the wild. It curled itself up on the ground beside me and died.

It’s funny how a small incident like that can stay with you for the rest of your life. I have never forgotten it. At least it did not die alone.