And speaking of snakes…

Harry Potter has a little chat with a caged snake at the zoo. Shortly after this scene, Harry inadvertently freed the snake who'd been bred in captivity. Harry had no fear of snakes; for some people, it's quite a different story.

Harry Potter has a little chat with a caged snake at the zoo. Shortly after this scene, Harry inadvertently frees the snake. While he has no fear of snakes, for some people it’s quite a different story.

Ophidiophobes, beware! You might want to stop reading right now. In fact, given the title of this post, I imagine you probably already have. But for anyone who’s still with me, first things first: is “ophidiophobe” not an awesome word?

In case you’ve never heard it before – and I confess I had not, until today – it means a person who has “an abnormal fear of snakes.” A person who (according to the oracle of our age, Wikipedia) “would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures.”

I have my friend Jim Withers to thank for this latest addition to my vocabulary. Jim is himself an ophidiophobe, and he had some interesting things to say on the subject in a comment on last night’s post about the pair of garter snakes that Raymond and I recently met in the Manse’s perennial garden. (And because Jim was/is [he’s retired] one of the world’s great copy editors, I knew I could safely copy and paste the word from his comment into this new post, without having to check the spelling.)

One of the two snakes – the male of the pair, I believe – whom Raymond and I encountered in our garden at the Manse recently.

One of the two snakes – the male of the pair, I believe – whom Raymond and I encountered in our garden at the Manse recently.

Another ophidiophobe is our Madoc friend Brenda, author of the fresh new blog Right On the Doorstep, which I wrote about here. She used the topic as a post today in response to my yarn about Mr. and Mrs. Manse Snake – probably choosing not to post her thoughts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse because she couldn’t stand to spend any time in a place where there were snake visuals. (I had a couple of little videos of our friendly snakes.) Brenda describes her ophidiophobia as “my can’t-even-turn-the-page-of-a-book-when-I-know-there’s-a-picture-of-a-snake fear.” And I know what she’s talking about, because my sainted mother is the same way. Garter snakes like the ones that Raymond and I came upon were quite common around the Manse when my family lived there back in my childhood, and you can just imagine how enthused my ophidiophobe mother was about that. (Fortunately, because she wants nothing to do with “the computer,” as she calls it, she doesn’t read this blog. If she were to see last night’s post, or this one, she’d probably never come visit us at the Manse again.)

Anyway, let’s move on from the abnormal fear of snakes to the topic of “other kinds of snakes to be found in Queensborough.”

This train of thought was prompted by another comment on last night’s post, from Queensborough resident Marykay. She stirred all kinds of childhood memories with this rather chilling sentence: “It is the black snakes you have to worry about!”

This is a "western black snake," which according to my very-far-from exhaustive internet research is probably what we called "black snakes" (or maybe "water snakes") in my childhood in Queensborough.

This is a “western black snake,” which according to my very-far-from exhaustive internet research is probably what we called “black snakes” (or maybe “water snakes”) in my childhood in Queensborough.

Whoah! That sentence took me right back to when I was a six- or seven-year-old, listening to tales from the “big kids” in Queensborough about the snakes that would sometimes show up when one was swimming in the Black River, which runs through our village. In the stories the snakes were always huge and black, although I’m not sure now whether we called them black snakes or water snakes. (It could well be the latter; maybe I’m thinking “black snake” because it was the Black River. Then again, Marykay used that term “black snake,” so maybe that is what they’re called locally.)

I have to tell you, though, that despite having swum in the Black River probably hundreds of times in my childhood, I never once saw a black snake. (Or, for that matter, a water snake.) Do they really exist, or were/are they a scary rural legend?

I may not be an ophidiophobe, but I think I need to know. Because, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.

And in case you were wondering, “forearmed” sounds like this in Parseltongue:

(Which I know thanks to The Parselmouth). Geez, if I’d known that language back in the day I could have scared those “big kids” silly!

16 thoughts on “And speaking of snakes…

  1. It’s funny you talk about snakes and like you I feel the very same way. But logically I don’t think they would harm anyone. I have seen black snakes/water snakes but usually from a distance. They really are afraid of you as you are afraid of them, but I think you already know that. They are very much apart of mother nature as well as Mr. Garter who seems to like my frog pond we made with our run off water from our basement. But the real reason I am commenting if you have a fear of snakes there is one thing you must do in your lifetime is visit the Reptile Zoo on Hwy #7 West on your way to Peterborough. You would be amazed at all the beautiful, yes I said beautiful snakes and reptiles they have there. Some just look like Mother of Pearl. And all safely behind shinning clean glass. And while there you must see the Dinosaur Exhibit out back. I am told they will be there again this year. Amazing pieces of work locally crafted and designed from Trenton, Ontario. The Reptile Zoo is one of our many excursions out for the children in the YMCA Ability Camp I drive for all summer long. I really think you will be impressed by what you see. 😉 The Peterborough Zoo is fun too! One day if your bored that is of course..

      • This actually sounds like a really good idea for those who have snake phobias. Are you sure you don’t want to try it, Brenda? Hey, you looked it up and found it…

    • Hey, thank you, Marykay! I have driven by the sign for the Reptile Zoo on Highway 7 for years, and never thought to stop in and have a look. Now I will! I feel like I am already coming around to snakes (whom I previously didn’t like at all) thanks to the chatty Mr. Manse Snake I met during the garden cleanup. So I think it would be a good next step to see more of them – and I’m sure they are beautiful, as you say.

      Meanwhile, that’s terrific that you drive for the YMCA Ability Camp! That must be a very rewarding experience. Good stuff!

      • Over the years I have seen so many children do so many things.. my job gives me much satisfaction. I have seen kids learn to fly at the air base and have had the experience they travel through their gliders, learn to air traffic control, stood in a CF18 with them, seen them achieve in sports events and everyday graduations from kindergarten to grade 12. And I watch children that are less fortunate than us swim, bowl and yes enjoy snakes and mother nature along with fantasy and fiction. Through a child’s eye we see the possibilities. And never see failure. Life is to enjoy even snakes. 🙂

  2. I’m glad to hear your stance is softening a bit – snakes do have their ecological niche, as you know, are beautiful – NOT slimy – and just generally very cool. I remember how, riding home on my bike one day from some extra-curricular activity at school, I saw a garter snake in the water in a ditch. Since it was pretty much comatose from the cold water I was able to pick it out and take it home. By that time it had happily warmed itself from my hands, and was ready to be released. I had an advantage over many kids with regard to snakes and a lot of other critters, having a biologist for a Dad and a naturalist for a Grandfather, and I am always sorry to think that many others did not have that opportunity to see and appreciate the complex beauty of the world around us.

    I’ll sign off with the word on the other side of the coin from the one you introduced, a word you may someday adopt…ophidiophile.

    • Lucky you, Sandra, to have had those excellent early lessons about the beauty and usefulness of all of God’s creatures (okay, maybe not mosquitoes) from your father and grandfather. My dad too tried to teach us that snakes were people too (so to speak), but in my case it didn’t take all that well – perhaps because of my mother’s utter terror and loathing of them. I do think this newly discovered pair at the Manse is going to be a helpful influence. They feel like our friends!

      • Maybe not mosquitoes? Let me contribute this, from Ogden Nash 😉

        I objurgate the centipede
        A bug we do not really need.
        At sleepy-time he beats a path
        Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
        You always wallop where he’s not,
        Or, if he is, he makes a spot.

      • “Objurgate” – I had to look that one up too. (“Rebuke severely; scold.”) The things readers teach me! But I kind of agree with Ogden Nash on this one. My sister, Melanie, and I used to always call centipedes “killer bugs” when we were kids; they horrified us. And our experience was less that we walloped where they were not, and more discovering that when we walloped where they were, there were no bodily remains to show for the exercise. The killer bug had vanished!

  3. Yes there were water snakes in the Black River above the dam, however, rare. I recall the occasional sighting when I was kid (1970-79) on the Gough frontage of the river. More recently while visiting my dad, Art Gough, this summer (2013), I saw one slither away from our old watering hole (near the small dam). It dampened my enthusiasm to go for a swim with my son, Joshua.

    • Interesting, Bill. I always heard of them in my growing-up-in-Queensborough years but never actually saw one – and probably would have freaked out if I had, though my friend Elaine, who also sees them from time to time when she swims, assures me they are nothing to worry about. Perhaps Joshua would find them fascinating!

  4. For goodness snakes, yes, those black/water ones exist. We were at Crowe Lake (Marmora) one time and a lot of kids were in the water, close to the beach. All of a sudden, everybody started screaming and running for shore. A water snake was making his way through the crowd and then onto land.

    Now, I’ve been told that the black snakes can be quite aggressive, if bothered. I’ve heard of a few instances where they lunged at someone, say, if a person threw a stone at them. One of the guys at school said he used a stick to shove one off the dock, and the snake came back for him. I could embellish the story and say that he had nightmares for six months and that he need psychiatric help to get over it, but I won’t do that. Anyway, he was quite serious, and he (and others) remarked about the size of the snakes, somewhere around 5-6 feet. Just as long as I don’t encounter them, I won’t mind too much.

    • Good gracious! Your pal at school may not have had nightmares about that attacking snake, but I sure would have. After that yarn about the water snake coming up onto land, I think I might still!

      • Well, coming up onto land was one thing, but the worst part was when it was slithering amongst the swimmers. People were playing in the water and then all of a sudden, the screaming started. As they looked about, they were horrified to find this big snake coming at them. Really, and without any exaggeration, those poor kids screeched and got out of that water so fast. One of the girls was in tears, and she said she thought she was going to faint when she saw it pass her within a foot or so. And that was my one and only time in Crowe Lake!

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