Friday, October 31, 2008

On snake handling

So, I was raised Pentecostal. Speaking in tongues, slain in the spirit, hair down to your butt, if you wear make-up or pierce your ears you're going to hell Pentecostal. Not that I subscribed to the hair, make-up or earrings rules. My mama figured she had jurisdiction over those things and if she thought I was modest, nobody else was going to tell me I wasn't. But we didn't do the snake stuff in church. I've just been kidded about it my whole life. I think that's more of a West Virginia religious activity. My snake handling came about in a totally different way. I knew a guy once who volunteered regularly at Bays Mountain Park. I was immediately interested (in the volunteering at the park, not him). He worked with the birds of prey. So I went up, met a few volunteers and got a gander (so to speak) at the birds. Large birds. Who rip up little furry creatures with their huge curved beaks and razor-sharp talons. BUT I loved this park and the idea of helping there really appealed. Until I filled out the volunteer information sheet and saw,(cue angelic music from heaven) , that reptiles were also a volunteer option. Oh happy day! So I skipped out on the big scary birds and signed up for snakes. Basically I'd show up a couple of times a month and just wear a sweet snake in the herpetarium so that visitors could pet the snake, ask questions, etc. It was wonderful. One of the most fabulous things I have ever done. If I could do that everyday and afford to feed my family, I would. Because, you see, the snake broke down boundaries. Here I was in my little Bays Mtn polo shirt and khakis, and scary looking people, (lots of tattoos, piercings, black clothing, and general attitude) would talk to me. With their guards down. They would not see me as someone from another layer in society. We would share our interest in the sweet snake I happened to be holding or wearing at that moment. It was so nice to be able to do that. I'm pretty friendly in general, but you know how it is. Some people just assume that YOU don't necessarily want to talk to THEM and don't give you the eye contact or opportunity. Not so with the snake in play.

I also got to do school programs for the park one spring. Which was SO fun. I would have a room full of kids on a field trip and get to tell them all about snakes. And after my spiel, would get to watch the wonder of a little kid petting a black king snake and seeing the pretty checkerboard pattern on his tummy for the first time. One of my favorite incidences from my field trip days was when I had opted for a larger snake to hold during my talk. (You can hold any age group spellbound if you're letting a snake roam free over your upper body while you talk.) This was a beautiful chocolate brown pine snake. I think she was only about 3 or 4 feet long, but pretty powerful. I was talking and not paying attention and she looped around my neck. Not attacking in any way, I was just a warm, mobile tree for her. A little girl in the back raised her hand and said, very timidly, "I think she's trying to kill you." So then I had to go into the whole "what I did was bad, don't ever let a snake wrap around your neck" routine.

One last anecdote, I had a tendency to wear my hair twisted up in a clip at the time. While holding the smaller king snake, the little devil slipped up through my hair UNDER the clip and popped his head out the top of my hair. (This is the same snake who got so tangled in my bra once, I had to go to the back and take off my shirt to get him untangled.) Now snake scales lay a certain way. It is very hard to finagle a snake backwards through something like hair that hangs on the scales. So in order to precipitate his removal, I stepped into the bathroom, looking a little like a young Medusa. Some poor, unfortunate woman happened to be relieving herself and missed my entrance. She exited her stall, saw me in front of the mirror pulling a snake out of the top of my head and just hit the door running. She didn't even wash her hands. Not very hygienic, if you ask me. That's all on snakes for now. That was for you, Angela.


angela said...

Okay, I think that you are very fascinating -- IN A GOOD WAY!! I can not imagine letting a snake crawl on me; I can't even imagine it touching it, let alone get caught up in my bra. You can be oddly fascinated by my "green" side and I'll be oddly fascinated by your snake side. =)

carlyn said...

yay for the snake story. i always wondered about that.