Monday, May 18, 2015

Face Your Phobia

I like snakes. They're neat creatures, and it really distresses me when people say things like "The only good snake is a dead snake," and other such nonsense. Without snakes, you personally would probably have to deal with all kinds of unpleasant pestilence you never even think about, and I'm betting that since you probably don't really have to deal with snakes all that often, you're better off leaving the snakes be than suffering the pestilence. I bring this up mainly because of a couple of Facebook posts from the past few days that included photos of snakes, and the sheer venom of some of the comments really showcased the irrationality of people's fears.

The photos above are from two or three years ago when I ran across this very friendly, six-foot-long black racer at Cedarock Park in Alamance County, NC. When I'm out geocaching, I'm often in their environment, and over the years, I've encountered just about every variety of slithering serpent that North Carolina has to offer. Make no mistake: even the venomous ones — around here, primarily Copperheads — would rather do their own things than mess with you, and most often, they'll make every effort to avoid dealing with you and your phobia. A while back, I was crossing a creek and inadvertently stepped on a Copperhead, and the fellow had the decency to vacate the premises with all due haste when he could have, had he been so inclined, just as easily given me a chomp on the leg. (Note that I call the snake "he" only because he had very masculine shoulders; nothing against the female of the species.)

I'll tell you something. Up until I started geocaching and found myself, not only in snakes' environments, but in spiders', I had a damn near debilitating case of arachnophobia. I was always fascinated but truly, deeply terrified by spiders of all types and sizes (of course, the bigger the more horrifying). Any spider I encountered was a dead spider, no ifs, ands, or buts. Awful, awful creatures; predators; alien-looking. Then I did a cache called Greensboro Underground, and the name says it all. To claim this cache, I had to go considerable distances through underground pipes, and at one stage, I was forced to confront my gravest imaginary dread.
Northern Black Widow (Lactrodectus variolus).
Don't mess with it, and it won't mess with you.

It went like this:

I was with a couple of gentlemen (who, I might add, are not wimps, in the technical sense of the word) that I will call Tom and Ethan. (To answer your question: yes.) To reach stage 1, we had to enter a very tight culvert, and Ethan had the good grace to go first. It wasn't moments before he was screaming in a panicked, high-pitched voice that led Tom and me to believe he must have been gravely injured. We're hollering, "What is it? What's wrong?" And he cries back, "This is the biggest spider I've ever seen! Wait — there's another one. And another one. Oh, Christ, the place is full of them!"

Tom and I debated a moment. There were spiders, and there was the geocache. All right, then; we do have our priorities, you know. The two of us wormed our way into the pipe, and — oh, my Christ — the confined space was absolutely crawling with big honking spiders, the smallest of which probably had a four-inch leg span. Our destination lay through a specific pipe, above which a huge wolf spider was resting on its laurels. Ethan put his foot down and declared that he was not going into the pipe with that spider hanging right there. Well, feigning the air of the undaunted, I took my hiking stick and knocked the spider off the wall — at which point it angrily began to scurry straight toward Ethan.

At this point, Ethan screamed a piercing scream and began a dance routine that would have shamed Gene Kelly. Tom and I took to chuckling, and since said spider had vacated its perch, I decided to take advantage of the moment and go into the next pipe.

Oh, shit, did I really do that?

At this point, I did question my wisdom, for this pipe was also full of spiders. They were all just hanging around on the walls and ceiling, and not really bothering me. However, as I ducked to go in, something fell onto my shoulder with a distinctive plop.

"Tom, my dear friend," I said. "Please tell me that was a not a big spider."

"Nope, just a hunk of grass and mud from the drain up there."

"You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"

"Not about that."

All right then. On I went, past veritable walls of spiders that sat contentedly watching me. They didn't really do diddly but scare the living crap out of me. Yet, after Ethan's little dance there, it was hard for me not to go through that pipe overtaken by paroxysms of laughter.

From that moment on, I never again suffered a fear of spiders. They didn't want to bother me. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure they were all laughing at Ethan too.

For what it's worth, if you come upon a snake — or a spider, or some other basically innocuous creature — that for reasons anything other than rational make you want to kill it, try instead picturing it in its underwear or maybe a big old dude like Ethan break dancing inside a culvert filled with spiders. Really, it's funny as hell.

You don't need to kill or otherwise antagonize the critters. Just give it some thought. Face your phobia. Fuck your phobia.

It worked for me.
A fun little black rat snake that was meandering about in the heat of winter, a couple of Decembers ago.
I'm sure he would rather have had cool weather and been taking a nap.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

Wise words! I never bother snakes. I see them all the time when I'm hiking and backpacking. As you say, even the venomous ones only want to get away from your big mammalian self because we're just too big to eat.

A few years back at a campsite I found a black widow spider in the firewood we were using. So I captured it in a paper towel and walked up the mountain with it. Carole said: "You're going to let it go, aren't you? You're not going to kill it, are you?"

I told her that I most certainly WAS going to kill it. But I lied. I took it waaaaaaaay up the mountain and released it.