Ally and I went on a walk around the lake last night. We waited until almost sundown. Ah, the pink sky and cool breeze. It was a beautiful time to be out.
The snakes thought so, too. We saw five of them: two huge cottonmouths; two diamond back water snakes; and one dead one whose head looked red because it was being devoured by ants.
I’ve grown up around snakes, so whenever I’m on a walk in the country, I spend a lot of time scanning the ground to watch where I step. I can usually be pretty matter of fact about seeing a snake and just walking around it to avoid disturbing it, but this bravado depends on exactly how close I am.
Our first snake, a rather large black cottonmouth, was hiding in the grassy center of the road, and he slithered off just before we reached him. He was closest to me, and I ran fast in the other direction.
“Don’t run, it’ll chase you!” Ally said.
“No, that’s bears!” I said. “I’m running! I’m getting the hell away!” I don’t think that running will inspire a snake to chase you, as in, fight or flight. Spotting a bear on a mountain trail in Colorado, I may stop in my path, try to look bigger and make loud noises. But snakes? I’m not sticking around.
Sometimes these snakes actually do chase. Once, when Cita had just finished water skiing, after we dropped her off in the water in front of the boat house, a few water snakes darted out of nowhere to chase her out of their territory. That’s the closest I’ve seen to anyone walking on water.
By the time we saw the fifth snake, it was dark and we were using our iPhone flashlights to see in front of us. Ally was spooked. She kept looking behind her to see if the snakes were chasing her. There were sounds, like small creatures rustling in the grass, mud dropping off the soles of our shoes, and waves lapping against the shore. But not a cartoon army of snakes storming towards us, with a big black water moccasin in the lead, body reared up like a cobra.
How are we going to exercise here with all of this snake drama? Maybe if I pay close attention to the time of day, I can avoid the snakes, but the problem is that they like to be out at the same time that we do, with our dogs.
The last snake was just a harmless water snake, but there it was in our path, just resting in road, his body in that curly scary snake position.
“Oh my God, another one!” Ally said.
“Just go around it, like this,” I said, walking around behind its tail, which had no rattles even though its skin looked creepily similar to a rattlesnake. She didn’t want to, but she did, eventually, because she didn’t want to be left behind. When she grabbed me I could feel her tension. You can’t reason with fear. No matter how innocuous this snake was, it was the thought of it—it’s snakiness—that got to her, and this fear was compounded, because we had seen multiple snakes, so that the snakiness of our walk had overpowered the entire experience.
“How does a snake bite, does it hang on? When does it let go?” Ally asked.
We have cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes here. I explained to Ally how they are vipers and have triangular heads, and that that was how you could tell the difference between a good snake and a bad one.
“Vipers have fangs with holes inside that let the venom through and when they puncture your skin that’s how they poison you,” I said. “But they strike at you and it’s super fast, so by the time you’re realizing it, they’re already done.” I hadn’t considered the details beyond these horrific facts. I bet we could find a YouTube video on it, but I wouldn’t want to watch it.
This morning, on my run, I came close to stepping on another moccasin, my turn to feel the fear course through me. If I was my dog I’d try to shake it off, but instead I just felt my skin crawl and kept running, looking extra hard because I was going faster than a walk and in certain spots they’re harder to see.
We’re paralyzed by fear right now, stuck at home and scared that every time we go outside we might get an invisible virus on our hands and infect each other. There are so many loopholes—for example, what about from the shovel that our foreman’s son was using? Or when did we buy that sweet potato, could there still be COVID 19 lurking on its skin? (Yes). How do we know where anyone has been and if they’ve unknowingly picked it up along the way of their day? At least we can see the snakes.
The day before, Ally had also jumped out of the jeep while it was in drive to avoid a spider on the rearview mirror—when she was driving.
“Put it in park first!” I yelled, stuck in the passenger’s seat.
“I’m pressing the brake with my hand,” she said, moving along with the car through the open door, “so put it in park!” I managed to hop over and stop the car, and examine the spider, which was harmless but had super long legs. It had distorted itself into a weird position that make it look even creepier. I squished it with a cup.
“I’m so sorry,” Ally said. “Bugs are my only thing!” Snakes are too, I thought, but did not say, because same goes for me. I may be more seasoned, but I’m just as scared and I’ve watched how being scared can build up, like the snakiness vibe of our walk. Every stick, even an ant trail, elicits a paranoid double-take. We can only tolerate so much fear before we get the heebie-jeebies and every little thing sets us off. That’s how the fear of COVID 19 is now for everyone, all the unknown dangers threatening us. It’s like seeing a snake and wondering, will it chase me or will it let me keep going and mind its own business? Will we contract this virus and end up on a respirator (if we’re lucky) fighting for our lives or will we just be asymptomatic?