One of my Oldest Fears: Snakes

On Saturday Seeing Eye dog Mylo, Gordon, and I explored a new Bay Area neighborhood with woodsy trail-like sidewalks. The sun slid past the horizon as we made our way back to the car. Gordon walked on my right, swinging a flashlight. Mylo moved ahead on my left, guiding with his usual confidence. Then Gordon’s hand was on my arm pulling backward, first walking, then running. I tugged Mylo’s leash, urging him to stay close to my side.

Twenty feet away, Gordon explained. What he thought was a log on the side of the path suddenly sprang into a defensive coil. Black with white stripes, it was the biggest snake he’d ever seen in real life. Later, much later, he identified it as a California kingsnake, a powerful constrictor known to squeeze its prey to death, including other snakes. Nonvenomous, they generally don’t hurt people.

Snakes scare me. When I was fifteen, my father tried to stop me from volunteering in Mali by tapping into my fear of snakes. Mali has numerous snakes, including mambas. He pointed out that If there was a snake on the path, I wouldn’t see it. Then what would happen to me?

He was absolutely right. I wouldn’t see the snake on the path. But there are snakes right here in the Bay Area, and I refuse to let that stop me from walking outside. As many of you read in my book, I eventually convinced my father to give me his blessing to travel to Mali and build a school. If any snakes crossed my path there, I didn’t see them.

The day after our evening encounter with the kingsnake, Mylo, Gordon, and I scheduled our daily walk long before sunset. Once again we explored a new Bay Area neighborhood. This one had hills, and Mylo loves flying downhill. I do, too. He trotted while I jogged, holding the harness and leash between us as he guided down the path. Then Gordon signaled to stop. Mylo and I waited as he hiked up the hill to investigate something, then returned a minute later. Mylo had walked past a rattlesnake sunbathing on the side of the path, about seven feet from where we jogged by. Silvery grey in the sun, it blended with the pavement and Gordon hadn’t seen it initially. He heard the rattle, though.

So I told my dad. Sometimes sighted people don’t see the snake.

California has more snakes than usual right now. Snakes, especially the venomous ones, can hurt dogs and humans. Fear reminds me to respect the wild world around me on my walks. Stay informed, stay alert, and find your personal balance of safety and adventure.

Gordon did catch a photo of the rattlesnake, but I’ll spare you that creepy image.