Magazine article The Christian Century

Snakes in the Grass

Magazine article The Christian Century

Snakes in the Grass

Article excerpt

I am not squeamish about most animals or insects. I have no inordinate fears of dogs or cats. Bats are not too scary, though I would rather not have one stuck in my hair. Spiders have my respect and are not regarded as cuddly. But snakes are different. Here is where I come closest to an animal phobia.

Snakes strike me as inherently ugly: all whip-body with beady, soulless eyes. They move by slithering, which seems an innately sinister motion. It is also a given that they are under foot, easily hidden in the grass ahead of our tread. For the most part they are quiet, which adds to their menace; when they do make noise it is a hateful hissing.

I am, of course, talking about my subjective response to the creatures. They are, after all, God's creatures, and I am well aware that not everyone finds them sinister or ugly. Here is where the church's diversity of membership rightly and happily comes into play. Let those who appreciate snakes appreciate them (and even keep them as pets if they like). And let those of us who can only warily respect snakes respectfully keep our distance.

For me, one of the advantages of living in the suburban Chicago area is that one does not often encounter snakes. There are surely snakes native to the area, but in over 30 years of living here

I have seen nary a one. I can walk in my backyard with perfect serenity, at least so far as the potentiality of snakes obtains.

It was not so where I grew up. On the farm in northwestern Oklahoma we routinely came across snakes, often very close to our houses. One of my earliest memories is of playing outside Grandma Clapp's house on the front porch. Suddenly I saw a rattlesnake, coiled right by the front door. At that moment, Grandma came out of the house, pushing the door open in the snake's face and stepping onto the porch. I anxiously informed her of the snake's presence-relieved it had not struck her--and she soon dispatched it with a garden hoe.

The number-one horror story about snakes in a house involved the Miles family, whose home was built on top of an old prairie dog town bearing the moniker Snake Hill (rattlesnakes love to occupy abandoned prairie dog holes). According to the stories we heard, the Miles place was infested with rattlers, hanging from trees and sometimes even from rafters inside the house. Mrs. Miles prowled the outside grounds with a shotgun, blowing up snakes by the dozen. …

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