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Mind the snake, please.

June 22, 2011

Last week my husband and I had a bit of the dismals. We looked over our various half done jobs (stripping wall paper and painting downstairs bedroom, wrestling the laundry room monster that threatens to devour souls and small dogs,  getting the garden set up, digging another drainage ditch,  painting the kitchen, rescreening doors, FINALLY get a door knob up on the hall closet…weed theAHHHHHHHHHH). So we hung up a picture in the dining room. High fived and flopped on the couch feeling totally uncreative and uninspired.

We realized as we talked out our short tempers and crusty attitudes of late that we hadn’t really gotten out and about. Sure we’ve been out in the Garden, heading to the local playground, the local beach. But we needed a little adventure damn it. That’s why we set sail from Kauai and the land of the everlasting coconut. To travel to new lands. Not to spend every Saturday weeding, unpacking and pushing kidlets on swings (not that there is anything wrong with said activities…just in moderation!).

So we found a destination. Dug out our new family tent and trangia. Piled up tiny sweaters, stuffed monkeys, favorite books, tempting snacks and a dose of optimism about camping with two kids under 2.5. I mean…THIS WAS CAR CAMPING, not a trip to Everest. Although you’d be tempted to think we were about to do a recreation of the Oregon Trail after you saw all the crap we had.

We set up our tent in condor country. California chaparral. Dry and hot with evergreen oaks, thickets of chamise, clumps of monkey flowers and dainty elegant clarkia. Manzanita. Mustang mint. We dripped sweat in the 90 degree heat thinking how in the F did we cope in Hawaii all those years? My body is now fine tuned to a temperate coastal 65-70 F.

We hiked. Went birding. Built a wee fire. Got tired kids tucked in and sat under the stars holding hands and drinking cups of lady grey tea while pouring through our wildflower ID book.

It was EXACTLY what we needed and now we want more, more, more!

And yes, as always I got my snack over the head lesson in mothering by the Universe.

Our first trail was a simple 3 mile looper past a spring, a cave closed for bat breeding and winding through boulders that looked like the marbles of scattered giants. Sounds great yeah? Well, 4 steps onto the trail (you know, it might have still been the car park) I met my first Western Rattlesnake with my daughter firmly tied to my back.

To say I was raised in a snake phobic house is an understatement. My mom honed an obsessive fear of snakes that makes Fox New’s conspiracy theories on left-wing media bias seem rational in comparison. A garter snake the size of my pinky finger turned up in the green beans…off with his head! What about by the morning glory trellis? Off with his head. By the fire pit? You got it! Off with his head.

I have so many memories of my mom forcing my dad, cousins, innocent bystanders to decapitate snakes that it’s hard to choose just one scenario. It just runs together into a bloody summertime genocide of scales and hissing.

Perhaps the best example of her pathological fear was the time she abandoned my 3 week old sister in her bouncer out on the dock because a water snake was spotted in the general vicinity. I remember standing on the (second story!) deck clutching her hand with my brother and other young sister who was luckily able enough to toddle away  while my mom called down encouraging “buck up, you’ll be fine,” remarks to the howling baby before growling to my dad to get the shotgun.

For those of you who know my dad and have seen him order bottles of wine, obsess over bike components or a new set of golf clubs this may come as a surprise. But yes, my dad obliged his wife and executed this hapless water snake by firing squad. Then piled the remains on my Aunt Donna’s dock three doors down because you know, she hates snakes too. Just not as much as my mom.

Sure Mom had her reasons. Seven brothers sticking snakes in her bed or wrapping their dried corpses around her door knob. But to be unable to look at a picture of one in a book? Cognitive therapy anyone?

Obviously this snake phobia cast it’s own dark shadow across my tender psyche. Nick and I enjoyed many backpacking trips into the Tasmanian bush that descended into tears the minute he hiked a mite faster and rounded the corner out of my eyeshot. Abandoning me when bona fide snake danger existed? This wasn’t getting licked to death by a garter snake. This was getting swallowed into the tussocks by the feared Tiger Snake.

He was unsympathetic. I was uncoddled. Unhappily so. Then we moved to Hawaii and enjoyed 5 years of running thigh deep through dense bush worry free.

And now here I was. Literally looking straight into the glistening eyes of rattlesnake who held it’s head alert, tailed poised. And there was my 9 month old daughter and VERY impressionable 2 year old son watching me.

“Oh.” I managed.

“A snake.” Jarah squatted next to me pointing as Nick hung back checking out my reaction.

“It’s so….beautiful?” I squeaked looking back to my husband for reassurance. He just grinned like a cheeky monkey. An encouraging cheeky monkey. C’mon, show me you can handle this one.

“Yes, he’s so beautiful Mama.” The little guy agreed.

“Let’s just stay right here and show the snake some respect okay?”

“Ok. Hi snake!.” Waves.

We stood there for the 27 hours or seconds it took for the snake to undulate down into a pile of leaves.

For the next 4 days all we heard about was the “so cool beautiful rattlesnake. pay attention. show respect.”

I can’t promise not to inflict all my deep-seated fears on my children. But here is one little chestnut of hope that sometimes, just maybe, I can break an unhelpful cycle. Keep their sense of peace intact whatever my own irrational hang ups.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2011 1:25 pm

    Omfg the rattlesnake! I would have lost my stuff. I’ll have to think of this when I see a centipede and respond by hurling and running away. (And love mama t!)

  2. June 27, 2011 10:18 pm

    The snake genocide part is my fave! I like this one

  3. Melissa permalink
    August 3, 2011 7:45 pm

    I just showed Garrison the picture of the snake and he said, “Maybe it’s a caterpillar!” next time you see a snake just think of it like a giant caterpillar:)

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