COLUMN: That fear of snakes | Columns

”The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~ President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I have this visceral fear of snakes. By visceral, I mean the true definition of that word: relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect — both unreasoning and elemental.

Now, let me explain. I probably shouldn’t have that strong a fear of something, but when I was yet to start first grade, my parents took my sister and me to Salt Plains for a family outing.

I distinctly — to this day — remember walking through really tall grass in shorts ahead of my parents, stopping to wait for them. In an instant, a black snake wrapped around my right ankle.

Yep, I took off running like a scalded cat, and didn’t stop until I was out of that damned tall grass and the snake had fallen by the wayside.

To this day I have a fear of snakes — don’t like them, don’t want to be around them, don’t want to see them.

I get instantly weak in the knees when I see one.

So, the other night, my wife of less than a year informed me by text that she had seen something around the back of the house, loitering around a pile of old leaves and the residue of winter-dead small limbs and twigs.

She kept hemming and hawing around and not telling me what she had seen, until the light came on in my overactive brain and I instantly texted her back: SNAKE.

We had a snake in the backyard, and there weren’t enough walls or filled in small cracks in the house to keep it out of my mind.

Of course, after getting some of that awful-smelling naphthalene and sulfur snake repellent spread around the area that Mr. Snake had been spotted, I slept easier.

Unfortunately, two nights later, after sending the dogs out after work for their last evening potty break, there was Mr. Snake — on the back porch.

I went instantly weak-kneed, but instead of retreating, I grabbed a shovel and scooped him off the porch.

He immediately coiled up, and after that … let me just say he is no longer with us, and I’ll leave it at that.

I had — to a point — overcome my visceral fear of snakes.

Only took me two-thirds of a century.

So, what are you most afraid of?

And don’t tell me you’re not, because everyone has some deep, dark fear they hold within their psyche.

Many have a fear of spiders, others a fear of flying, still others a fear of heights. How about claustrophobia, which is the fear of confined spaces?

That one is very real, and I was exposed to it at the tender age of still in the womb.

My mom told me on any number of occasions she was extremely claustrophobic and had a devil of a time while she was pregnant with me and visiting the famous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

Fortunately, I didn’t inherit her fear of tight spaces.

In later years, she found that her fear of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes was stronger than her fear of confined spaces because we got a storm cellar and she — and we — went in it regularly while I was growing up.

I found that history is replete with fears of famous — and more often than not, infamous — people.

Muammar Gaddafi was said to be afraid of heights, and made it a practice to pitch tents so he wouldn’t have to stay in a high-rise hotel.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was notoriously paranoid about being assassinated.

And, just from his history of murdering his own people, that fear was warranted.

Adolph Hitler was notoriously afraid of dentists, among his many other phobias.

I can kind of relate to that one, but then again, most of us don’t like to go visit the dentist, probably from a fear of the unknown, and what exactly the dentist will find hiding in our mouths.

I found this phobia to be particularly interesting: Famed FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had a fear of left turns, feeling them to be unsafe and requiring agents to only make right turns.

Makes you wonder how the heck he ever got where he needed to go.

So, do some fears eclipse stronger fears, and I guess that’s how we overcome them?

Or, do some of us just go through life with a damned black snake wrapped around our ankles?

Ask Mr. Snake, if you can find what’s left of him.


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