To say that I am an ophidiophobe would be absolutely correct. Maybe it’s the way that they move. One of my favorite lines from Disney’s “Robin Hood” is Sir Hiss repudiating Prince John: “Snakes don’t walk; they slither.” Slither, they do.
Then there was the den of snakes on the original Indiana Jones movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I can still conjure up that image. Turns out Indy also had a fear of snakes, having fallen into a crate of them on a circus train, which was revealed in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Glad to know Indy and I have something in common besides being a Jones.
Growing up in Montana, rattlesnakes were commonplace. My mom had a jar of rattles that she had accumulated as a young person killing the snakes for the trophy. I find it hard to believe that she was actually out killing snakes; maybe it was a brave wooer trying to prove himself to her. She was a good-looking babe!
Riding horses over the hot Montana hills, we teenage girls frequently happened upon rattlers. We were always warned before we left, “Watch out for rattlers!” We had no fear. The horses usually heard the familiar rattle first and smart animals that they are, sidestepped away from the threatening snake.
I’ve never had an interest in coiling a boa around my neck or touching a rattlesnake in a tube. There are many who are interested in that experience, however. A regular reader of Valley Life columns wrote to me about Scott Rohrer, a biologist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and his Methow Valley Spring Snake Search, a one-day environmental education class sponsored by North Cascades Institute (NCI). I do know that snakes play an important role in the environment. I also know there are those who are very interested in the creatures.
I happen to have a 9-year-old grandson whose name is Knox who is fascinated by reptiles and amphibians. When he comes to visit, his first question is, “Are there any lizards or snakes around?” If there are, he finds them. Having raised three boys next to a coolie (correct spelling in the Potato State) in Idaho, I had my share of snakes in gallon mayonnaise jars with holes poked in the lid with an ice pick. History repeating itself, but when Knox goes home, he lets the snakes out.
The last time, the garter snake he freed decided our lawn was actually an excellent place to reside and every lawn mowing, I would see him hastily making his way out of the path of the lawn mower. (Secretly, I was hoping he would become diced fertilizer for the lawn. Sorry, snake people!) Instead, the snake made his way into the garage, and as I worked my way through the firewood pile in the winter, there was a shed snakeskin in perfect shape. Always reminds me of the Bruce Springsteen song “Streets of Philadelphia” from the powerful movie “Philadelphia:” “Ain’t no angel gonna greet me/It’s just you and I my friend/My clothes don’t fit me no more/I walked a thousand miles/Just to slip this skin.” In the 1980s, there is no doubt the AIDS-afflicted wished they could have slipped their skins.
Winter sends the snakes somewhere else. I’ve heard that “snow snakes” with poisonous venom can live in cold temperatures and are only active in winter months. Reuters Fact Check says this is not true; instead, American folklore. Thank heavens.
I’ve also been told that the rattlers most generally reside on the sunny side of the Mazama corridor. There’s one advantage to living under the shadow of Sandy Butte. I’ll continue to appreciate the role that these creatures play in the ecosystem, but will be happy if they just stay out from underfoot.