On a recent jog along the dusty unpaved roads of my neighborhood, I heard – and then saw – a couple of energetic dogs intent on chasing me down. They leaped off the front porch of a nearby house, tore across the wide-open acreage adjacent to the street, and came to a halt just inside what must have been an invisible fence. Barking and jumping, they made it clear I was intruding on their space. Not that I really noticed. I was scanning the road and the shoulder where I was running instead, looking for snakes.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m on the lookout for snakes in the dead of winter, when wildlife should be hibernating. Or maybe you’re wondering why I’m even running in an area where I might step on one. Truth be told, it’s highly unlikely I’d come across a snake in my neighborhood, even in the middle of a hot summer running deep into the weeds. Colorado has plenty of the slithery ones, but they prefer the rocky habitat of the foothills to the west (up against the Rocky Mountains). Yet I still look for them out of a long-enforced habit.
Does my snake-dislike qualify as a phobia? Probably. It was my earliest face-to-face with a rattler that turned me to the dark side. Summertime, backyard of our house – living in the close confines of a narrow canyon – and I whacked a tennis ball into the neighbor’s yard. Didn’t mean to do that and needed the ball back. Nobody was home next door but a side gate meant I could sneak around unnoticed. As I moved beyond the house and into an unkempt grassy area, I spied the tennis ball and made a beeline for it. What I didn’t see was the five-foot snake nestled in my path, coiled and ready to strike. Peripheral vision or his rattle made me leap and hurdle at the last second. I landed on the other side of him and kept running. Someone came to my aid and the rattler was caught soon after, but the damage to my psyche was done. Snakes = not good.
There are four species of poisonous snakes indigenous to the United States: copperhead, coral, cottonmouth, and rattlesnakes (of which there are several sub-species). I’ve had the “pleasure” of encountering two of these four up close and personal. In California I came across several more rattlesnakes after my tennis ball adventure, including those big, nasty diamondbacks on desert hikes with the Boy Scouts. Then, years later, while visiting my wife’s family in North Carolina, I played a round of golf and discovered copperheads are fond of the short grass out there. I approached my ball on one of the fairways and just about left my shoes when a long, black snake sprinted across my field of vision. One of the locals I was playing with just laughed and said, “copperheads; get used to ’em kid!” Whether that was sage advice or mind games, golf in North Carolina lost all appeal.
Snakes have been in their share of films. I’ve never seen snakes on a plane and I never saw Snakes on a Plane so I’m still okay to fly. A friend dragged me to Anaconda, which killed any interest in seeing the Amazon. And in Raiders of the Lost Ark of course, Harrison Ford is asked “Indie, why does the floor move?” The following scene with all those snakes is a close-up I wish they’d left on the editing room floor.
Some say you’ve got to get your nightmares out in the open to get past them. Maybe I’m doing that by writing about them. Doesn’t mean I won’t keep looking for slithery ones when I run.