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It's Nelly's World

Embracing My Snakes

alec vanderboom

I am on the favorite old-home dog walk. That is when I see them projected by my spring-addled brain onto the river rocks lining the path between the creek and the cornfields: a sudden shock of a black rat snake, outstretched across my way to gather the season's first warmth. This one is fictitious but will soon be real. It always feels like he's crept up on me, but the truth is that I've crept up on him. He's minding his business, slowly, and his surprise is evident in his wary flicking eye.

The human (and canine) fear of snakes is instinctual, and makes a hell of a lot of sense. Only, as with almost every eminently sensible instinct, some individuals simply don't have them. Fear of heights; fear of snakes; fear of falling off high towers. When you live with someone who does not have an aversion to something you do, you can be made to feel foolish. On the other hand, the difference is mighty useful for snake removal when they decide to crawl into the living spaces of your home.

For nearly a hundred years, the house I used to live in was home to unknowable generations of black rat snakes. They molted their skins in the attic; they moved silently between the stones of the foundation. On occasion, they would drape themselves across the porch, the branches of the trees. And, most alarmingly, one day a black head, followed by the dully shining rest of a body much like the head, flowed out between the two sections of the dishwasher. As I happened to be standing next to it, at the sink. The little glimmer of movement--the scream.

Still, I tried to catch my breath, psychically speaking. A wildlife protector from some agency I had called in a panic--my toddler had reached, smiling, for a snake before I saw that it was not in fact a stick (another scream, quite instinctual)--dressed me down. "Some day, you will be happy to know," he said in clipped tones, "they will all be gone, when everyone like you has finished 'relocating' them." I was chastened; I had not proposed a euphemism, but rather actual relocation. I wanted them alive, somewhere else.

From that moment, I determined to embrace my snakes. They had been here before me, after all, and so they were like the ghosts of the long dead in that house, whom I also would never presume to throw out. Much as they might spook me.

I approach that which I fear. I stand as close to it as I can without causing fear in him, too, and I stare. Demystify, or de-snakify. Need I reveal I am offering up a construction here, a metaphor that is simultaneously a real thing? A creature who scares me as well as gives me a chance to break past the bounds of my own smallness, and proceed from here.


To the memory of my friend A.V.V., whose bravery,
and young beauty, were borne ever outward in her smile.
Too soon gone. Too soon.