When I was very young, about ten years old, I spent the summer at Camp Ropioa near Harrison, Maine. One day I caught and was playing with a snake. It didn’t like being held by a big monster. So, it bit me. It left two small holes in my left center finger. It didn’t really hurt, but it startled me. I let it go. But, even though it slithered off to some rock, it didn’t let go. It held on to me for months, years. I developed a phobia for snakes. I would break out in a sweat even if I saw the picture of a snake. I still remember a field trip to the Museum of Natural History when I was in about eighth grade. I freaked out when I passed an exhibit (under glass) of a coiled snake. It bothered me to be afraid of something that posed no real threat. I thought I was being unreasonable. And I was.
After high school, after College, after being on my own in the world and with a wife and kid I was living out in the country. Wife and kid were away visiting family. I looked out the window to see a six foot long slithering monster crawling up the side of our house! I got an axe and separated the head from the rest of the snake without getting any closer than the length of the axe handle. To prove my bravery I skinned the carcass and pinned it to a board to dry.
Later I read a story about someone who had overcome their unreasonable fear of snakes by catching and holding and stroking one. The thought sent shivers up my spine. But, I thought it might be worth a try.
Some time after the family came home I came across a three or four foot Black Snake in a field near our home. I carefully caught it and picked it up. I carefully held it from behind its head and showed it to my wife and son. We all stroked its scaly sides and felt its strength as it wiggled in my hand. I either got careless or the snake got impatient. It twisted it neck and bit the upper knuckle of my left thumb. Many of its short, sharp teeth penetrated my skin.
Now, I knew that a Black Snake is not poisonous, so there was no need to panic. I almost panicked anyway! If I had, those short, sharp teeth would have slid along my finger and ripped it open. Oh, it hurt, not much, but it did hurt. I held still and looked at my hand and the snake. I explained to him that he could hold on or let me go and that if he would le t me go, I would let him go. He did. I did. And he slithered away taking my phobia of snakes with him.
Some weeks later I was at the door of one of the out buildings on the property where we lived when I heard a rustling in the leaves next to the door and between the step I was on and the chimney that was a few feet away. When I looked down I saw a Copper Head snake! With about two bounds I was off the step and on top of my car! Was my phobia back? No! There’s a difference between a respect for a poisonous snake and a silly reaction to a harmless one. I’m not about to handle a Copper Head or a Rattler but Garter Snakes and Black Snakes don’t scare me anymore.
I was reminded of this when I saw a TED Talk by astronaut, Chris Hadfield, who talked of a fear of spider webs. Here’s the link:
danielcfischer on The UNIVAC 1005 Stephen Boyd on The UNIVAC 1005 Miki Smirl on This I believe, I think Kate on The Crazy Mud Caper Lon on The Crazy Mud Caper