Snake appreciation

MY husband almost became a herpetologist, which means he almost didn't become my husband. Snakes occupy the undisputed first place on my list of things to be avoided, and I suspect that second place goes to those who handle snakes for a living. I'm immensely grateful that my spouse elected to pursue a different vocation or, quite literally, our romance might never have gotten off the ground. But he has never lost his fondness for snakes, and he claims that no one should be as afraid of anything as I am of them. He's absolutely right. So he has tried - and I have tried - to help me acquire an intelligent approach to these creatures and somehow even to appreciate them. This has not been altogether easy.

Shock treatment was his first endeavor, as he ambled into the kitchen one evening with a rattlesnake in a sack. My appetite vanished in an instant. Then I discovered there wasn't much the snake could do in the bottom of the sack, and I mustered up nerve to hold the sack, peek inside, and even touch the bottom and make it rattle.

My husband's work often involves field studies, usually in rough terrain, and he had been working in an area with a high rattlesnake population. I was in control on this one and feeling pretty good about it until he decided to show me how snakes are milked. (The venom is extracted from their fangs by holding the mouth open over a glass covered with plastic wrap.) I watched from a safe distance as he let the snake out of the sack and pinned it down to get a good hold on it. By the way, all this took place in the garage, not in the kitchen!

My next venture was somewhat less traumatic. I went to a snake lecture at the natural history museum. The lecturer was very convincing as she listed all the good points about snakes, but the fact that one of the creatures she was holding was slowly creeping up the side of her head during her talk and tunneling its way through her bouffant hairdo was a bit distracting.

One summer evening on his way home my husband had the amazing good fortune to find, not one, but two snakes slithering around our suburban neighborhood. One was sunning along the side of the road and was quickly captured and tucked in his briefcase. The second, less-fortunate creature was stretched out in the middle of an intersection, a sure target for some driver. My husband pulled off the road and went back to rescue the snake but then didn't know how to get it home, the briefcase being already occupied. So he did the only thing he could do and, holding the head in one hand and the tail in the other, he let any leftover snake spill across his lap as he managed to hold the steering wheel for the few remaining blocks home. That snake never knew how fortunate it was that the car didn't have a stick shift.

I still get little pep talks about how useful snakes are (farmers love them for rodent control), how beautiful many of them are, and how most of them are just as eager to avoid me as I am to avoid them. It's the ones that aren't eager that I worry about.

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