A Serpent Story
After residing in New York City for years, our editor in chief comes to terms with living side-by-side with her bête noire
Illustration by Elwood H. Smith
The first time I saw a snake in the Hudson Valley I was running for the 7:05 a.m. express train to Manhattan. The thing was huge (at least four feet long), perfectly black and shiny, and was “sitting up” in a neatly coiled position right there on the Beacon sidewalk. I thought it was a toy. But then it slithered — in that horrible sideways fashion that snakes sometimes do — and disappeared into a small grove of trees. I missed the train. And for the next few hours, as I recounted the story again and again to friends via my cell phone, I missed living in the city (that big one down south).
Obviously, I’m not alone in my fear of snakes. Ophidiophobia almost always ranks in the top three on a list of the world’s most common phobias. I dislike almost everything about them: their clammy skin, their darting tongues, and their little heads. But mostly, I hate the strange way that they move.
Still, my fear doesn’t keep me inside. I love hiking up Mount Beacon. The challenging trail, unparalleled views, and fascinating mountaintop ruins have frequently inspired me to climb to the summit. Then I learned that the mountain is home to a den of timber rattlesnakes. Excuse me, but rattlesnakes? I thought they lived out west in the desert, and that — occasionally — some handsome cowboy took out his rifle and shot one dead before it suddenly sank its fangs into an unsuspecting victim. It turns out that this is one of the few places in the state where the endangered rattlesnake can be found. How on Earth did I ever end up living next to a mountain infested with rattlesnakes? (I stopped hiking up there for a while.)
Now it appears that my dislike of slithery reptiles means I will run into one wherever I go. I saw a rat snake, this one dead, by the river in Beacon. I almost stepped on one while walking through the lush paths at Poughkeepsie’s Locust Grove.
One day at work we happened to be discussing my snake phobia when someone came in and announced, quite matter-of-factly, that there was a snake in the ladies room. I thought it was a joke, but no — it really was there. Admittedly, it was a tiny snake (our senior editor now refers to it as a giant worm) but its strange presence, for lack of a better expression, freaked me out.
Then the unthinkable happened. I was home alone with my one-year-old daughter when I noticed our three cats batting something about and hissing in that frantic manner usually reserved for the glorious trapping of a doomed mouse. I didn’t yet have my contact lenses in, so couldn’t see clearly — but of course you know where this is going. At some point the small snake — it was about a foot long — gave up the ghost, right there on my dining room floor. I went in search of a neighbor to help me, but to no avail. After much hand-wringing, I did what I had to do and disposed of the critter myself.
I feel differently about snakes, and other things, now. I still don’t like them, but I accept them in a new way. Snakes in the Valley are now beginning their long winter hibernation. So, I guess I’ll see you in the spring, guys.