Observations from a reformed snake-a-phobe

ROANOKE, W.Va. — I walked through the Roanoke Activities Building on the grounds of Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park. I took a left and at the end of the aisle I spied it. Two officials with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources had snakes in hand, surrounded by a crowd. There was a time this would have run a shiver down my spine and left me in a cold sweat.

As I neared those huddled around, I could tell there were others who had similar reservations. I spent several minutes observing the behavior of those who were interacting with the snake exhibit. The harmless, docile snakes were being held by the biologists as they answered questions and calmed fears. Children were reaching out and touching the serpents, one of which was wound around one biologist’s neck. You could see some trepidation at first, but it seemed to melt away and children warmed to the opportunity. Parents were a little less inclined, but a few of them had enough curiosity to reach out and make a skin to skin connection with their worst nightmare.

It was a good program. Thankfully attitudes about snakes are changing. Through educational programs, much like the one put on by the DNR at National Hunting and Fishing Days last weekend, people are starting to learn while they may have serious reservations about snakes they are a critical part of our ecosystem. The reptiles have been getting bad press ever since that Garden of Eden incident and humans have developed a serious disdain for them. I used to be one of those folks. I had a horrible fear of snakes and like many harbored a “kill them all” mentality. But, I’ve changed…somewhat.

I credit retired DNR biologist Frank Jernejcic for helping get me over the fear. He convinced me it is healthy to have a respect for the creatures and to always be cautious, but added my inherent fear was irrational.

“Look at the snake and look at your size,” he reasoned. “Think how intimidated that snake is of something your size.”

In retrospect, it was silly to be 6’5″ and afraid of something which at its greatest length was shorter than my leg. Nevertheless, I still have concerns. But concerns are good. If I spot a snake, my immediate reaction isn’t to kill it. I’ve taught myself to identity whether it’s venomous. So far I’ve only encountered one that was venomous and it was a copperhead killed by my neighbor. I was able to show them the positive identification traits. Earlier this summer, I came home from work to bedlam in my household after an adult blacksnake found my black garden hose attractive and decided to coil up with it. Instead of losing my mind, which would have been the answer 15 years ago, I grabbed my hoe and instead chopping off the head, used it to pick up the snake and tossed it off into the woods.

I’m not suggesting you need to become completely friendly with snakes. If your fear is deeply rooted that may never be possible. I’m not so reformed I will pick up a live one with my hands. However, if you encounter a snake the best way to handle the situation is to calmly move away from it. If the snake is in your yard, your home, garage, or somewhere it needs to be removed find somebody to remove it for you. It’s true in some cases killing it may be your only option and certainly if that’s the case go for it. But, if it’s a situation you can walk away from, I’ve come to believe that’s the best way to handle it. You may disagree, but hopefully not forever.