Yes, like parseltongue (from Mr. H. Potter). My oldest and I seem to be gifted with parsel ped. Infliction or gift of the foot, otherwise known as the ability to tread so lightly that you almost step on snakes (and sometimes lizards) during the heat of snake season. Which is definitely upon us now.

And the funny thing is, I can remember LOVING snakes when I was little. It was all about my brother's garter snake then. It was cool to pick up this long, slender green snake and let him slither between your fingers. I really learned to trust snakes at that time. No qualms. No fear.

And then there was that time I almost stepped on a huge rattler in Arizona. That wasn't so cool. Me with my poor eyesight, walking back down the road to our campsite. And as my foot neared it, my comment, "Why is that lane line moving?" Argh.

But really it was Suriname that did me in. I arrived in Suriname as a snake-appreciator. Not a lover by any means, but an interested party. And I left a changed person.

We had a lot to learn that first year in Peace Corps. We were, after all, two young Californians uprooted and now living in the Amazon rainforest in a tiny Maroon village. And as we acclimated to living there, we quickly learned two things:
1. Keep your yard scratched clean of everything. All the time.
2. And if you see a snake. And it's not a boa. Kill it immediately.

Now this bothered me a lot.

I mean, I consider myself a rational, relatively animal-loving individual. Heck, I'm vegetarian (for many reasons, including respect for the animals that inhabit this planet. But I'm not going down the "Why are you vegetarian?" road right now...)

So as we adjusted to our new lives in the Amazon (this only took a year and a half), killing snakes sounded completely insane. Matter of fact, watching my home-stay mom make a fire by tearing off a piece of an old plastic cup and lighting it was right up there with the kill-every-snake protocol. Gasp. You're just NOT supposed to do that! And even with venomous snakes in the area, I thought, heck, one can always stop and identify before deciding what to do. Why simply kill any snake you find? Especially if it's not bothering you? But I didn't say anything. I like to keep my thoughts to myself until I've given the situation a fair chance.

And come to find out, the difference between my old 'home' in California and my new temporary 'home' in Suriname was huge.

We've always had rattlesnakes to watch out for here in California. And that threat has always felt real to me since my grandfather was struck numerous times on his own front porch in the wee hours of the morning at his home in New Mexico. (By the way, he lived.) But in Suriname. Well, they have a plethora of highly venomous snakes. The fer de lance, bushmaster, lancehead, pit viper, tree viper, tropical rattlesnake, coral snake, aquatic coral snake, and of course, the non-venomous but deadly, anaconda. (Why can't I type ANACONDA without hearing the sound of "dunh, dunh, dunh" looming in the background?)

And even with all of these snakes around...as a nature-loving individual I felt walking around with a machete in hand, hacking at most anything at foot or overhead seemed so naive.

And then I lived there for two years.

I was lucky enough to not have too many snake encounters while in Suriname. Walking down to the creek we would occasionally see a l-o-n-g snake hanging from the vines. Or crossing someone's 'ground,' a huge rat snake would harmlessly zip by. Or, we'd see a headless snake flailing about after being found under so-and-so's bed.

But what you forget is how vulnerable we really are to chance. Everyone of us. And how when you put your heart out there in the form of multiple little people, children, how that chance dramatically multiplies. Exponentially. And our village was just as much home to the elderly as it was to the new generation. Crawling babies. Toddling one-year-olds. Just-learning-to-run two-year-olds. And these kids learn from the beginning to see with a whole different set of eyes. They'd see tree frogs hidden at the tops of viney trees. Iguanas resting between huge palm leaves. Monkeys hopping through the forest, branches tossing about on their path. And snakes. They'd see snakes. And they'd see them well, when the ground was scratched clean. No weeds. No scuffs. No debris. A clean slate to see a winding snake. Hence the necessity, or at least the benefits, of 'kabu pesi' (scrape the place clean) every morning and evening.

So, on our last week in the village we were finishing up work in our home garden. Pulling the old pea vines, turning the compost...and my flip-flopped foot lands right next to a brown turd. "Ack. Someone pooped in our garden!" (This wasn't entirely unusual since there were a lot of kids in the village, many of whom were just learning to potty-at-the-right-time-and-in-the-right-place.) And then it moved. And I moved.

My fifty-cent flip-flop was by no means going to keep my foot safe. And we neared again to take a look. "Wow, a bushmaster." Silence. "I almost stepped on that." Near misses can really ground you fast. Boy, how things could have been different a few moments ago had I stepped just a little bit more to the left....

So, like good villagers, my husband got the 'kabu tiki' (weed scraper), braced himself, and then "Phoom!" aimed straight for that neck. And as the metal blade hit, the snake uncoiled. And instead of a 6-inch long dookie, it was now a headless foot-and-a-half-long snake. And seconds later a pack of kids ran up. Packs of kids were the way in the village. Kids in varying ages...10-year-old with one-year-old on hip, accompanied by 8-7-6-5-4-and-3 year-old. And as they saw the waggling snake body, "Konipai, Konimai! Sai yu e du? SAH?!" (Our nicknames were Konipai and Konipai--smart man and smart woman.) "What are you doing? WHAAAAAT?" they yelled. They knew there had been a brief encounter with danger. And they were learning from every moment. Every encounter.

So in that final week, I'd come full circle. If "Moi-so" had stepped on that coiled brown snake, I would not have forgiven myself. I mean, you don't step on a pit viper and expect to live when you're out in the Amazon. Especially if you're two years old. Never mind my own darn foot.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, I walk now with my heart beating loudly. And every where we go we run into snakes.

Snakes at the beach last month. Ever seen a snake on a pile of seaweed? Me neither.

Snakes in the bushes.

Snakes at the front door. And then caught.

Snakes under the Laurel tree out back.

Snakes in the meadow.

And I'm trying hard to calm my heart. To trust ourselves. To anticipate anything. At any moment.

And most importantly, teach commonsense. Even when mine is occasionally failing miserably.

So, we're teaching snake confidence. Snake identification (aka. Take 3 steps back. Take a guess. And get mom or dad ASAP). Snake appreciation. Snake capturing. And snake guidance. Yes, this is my three-year-old using a long stick to guide a garter snake away from the house. Tap on his tail and he'll move away. And follow him slowly, gently tapping, until you and he have enough space from one another. She did a mighty good job, too.


And their confidence is growing in leaps and bounds. Which scares me. While at the same time, provides relief. It reminds me to trust these smart, intuitive little people.

So, question for the day. What's your relationship with snakes? Lover or phobic?

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Join me at RosieDreams, where I share my approach to frugal, simple and green family living.

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Tags: animals, challenges, children, dangers, nature, outdoors, pets, reptiles, safety, snakes, More…strategies, strategy

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