The Snake Whisperer

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

You know you’ve adapted to life in the country when you step off of your back porch and onto a small snake – and your heart continues to beat! In fact, after the initial gasp of surprise, you turn it into a learning experience and call the kids out to see – then carry the snake out to the field, in the hopes that the rye grass will protect the poor baby from predators!

Maybe it’s not the country life – maybe it’s me. I have a history with snakes. Snake!Snake!It all began when I was ten – and a boy in our church brought me a small milk snake as a pet. At my mother’s urging, I carried the snake to my father to ask permission to keep it. Of course, my father was a minister and was in an Adboard meeting with a roomful of nicely dressed church folks. Who knew old people could run that fast???

In graduate school I rented a room from a girlfriend – a newly single mom. We lovingly referred to her suburban home as “Hell House” – and never was an abode more aptly named. For two years we shared such travesties as exterior doors that refused to open – simultaneously (try explaining THAT to your boss), electrical fires, deranged squirrels, cats in the walls, a raining lamp, flooded basement – and bombardier snake. It started innocently enough. My friend and I were returning home after a strenuous day of bargain hunting; she went to the clothesline and I went to the back door. As I started to open the door, a shadow appeared above me. I ducked and screamed as a snake fell from overtop the door, caught itself on the metal railing - then raised its head and flicked its tongue at me! To this day, my girlfriend swears I saved her life, “Because if the snake had fallen on ME – I’d have dropped dead from a heart attack!” She lived in the house another 10 years or so – and NEVER did either of us enter the house without first stepping back and looking up (and try explaining THAT to strangers!).

When we first moved to our home in the country we piled boxes of belongings in the front room until we had done necessary repairs. One day my four-year old daughter came through the front hall and started screaming – the bad kind of scream that makes your heart clench and your hand start dialing 911. I ran to her – and almost collided with a large black snake winding its way through my hallway. The snake – not liking the loud noise - was trying to hide by going under the door to the front room which we had filled with our boxes. Now – my husband was terrified of snakes (he’s better now). I mean deep, unreasonable petrifying fear. I knew that if the snake got into the front room we would A) never find it and B) my husband would torch the house. Without thinking (and while screaming) I grabbed the snake by the tail and yanked it back from the door, dropping it when it turned to strike me. Several times this comedy of terror continued – with the snake getting more and more angry – until I was able to open the front door and swing the snake outside, where it disappeared under the house. I later found that a trap door in the closet floor was open, making easy access from below. Of course, once I realized how many mice find their way into a 1900’s country house I was wishing I had let the snake live indoors!

Snakes are my friends, now. We have an agreement. They don’t drop on me from above, and I respect their place in the universe.

Last year I was somewhat dressed up for a 50th Anniversary party – hose, black high heels, black sheath dress, etc. As we started to pile in the car I noticed a large black snake by the front tire – possibly the same snake I had thrown from the house years before. I walked to the front porch and stood there, watching the snake and talking to it. The snake left the car and slithered right towards me, up on to the porch, then circling around my foot and going through my high heeled shoe! It paused – just for a moment – then disappeared through the porch boards under the house. My husband’s still mad he didn’t get a picture of it!

It was a wonderful moment – but not an incident I would have welcomed in my younger years. I am…slowly…but FINALLY…growing into the womyn I always meant to be!

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