Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
About Fear > We Are A Brave Bunch
We Are A Brave Bunch

Grace-Notes #24 – Sunday 6/25/06
Snakes

I have more snake stories than you can shake a stick at.

In college, some boys, trying to make an impression, picked me up and put me in their standard issue, particle board, wardrobe. They told me that their pet boa lived there. It was dark and I said “Ha. Ha. Funny. Let me out now.” Then something large moved over my foot. My roommates were more shocked that the boys had a giant reptile in the dorm than at how loud I could scream.

We never visited that room again.

And then there was the time in Laporte when I lived in an old “house” made from the sides of a refrigerator truck. One day, after I’d been there a month, I woke early, poured a cup of coffee, and took the lid off my sugar bowl. The spoon drawer was in front of me. I backed up slightly, eased the drawer out, and just before I reached in, heard a voice in my head say “Look Down.” I did. A snake was curled in “S’s” around my spoons.

Later, the landlord said, “It probably came in under the sink trying to get warm.” He chalked the sink for me. It hardy helped, considering my now racing imagination.

Fast forward to a house near an open prairie. Lucas is 3, Gabriel 2 and my mother says, “Natalie – they can stay in the back yard for five minutes. You can see them from the window.” I dwell on this, and then one day go into the house for the phone. I pick it up and turn back toward the window in time to watch Gabriel run toward me, tiny, and huge-eyed, “Snake! Mama, Snake!” Lucas is still, a flat piece of shale lifted, as if it were hinged to the ground, toward his face. His small knees are bent and he’s close to the underside of the rock, peering, happy, fascinated.

He drops it when I scream.

I still don’t know if it was a rattlesnake: “It was curled in circles, Mama, and had a triangle cut out of its tongue.”

Yes. He bent closely enough to see the triangle gone. So begins my campaign of eeek, ick, fear and stay away. My husband notes this and then says, “Do you really want them to be as afraid of snakes as you are?” I consider, and then say “Yes. I do. Then they will stay safe.”

Fast forward again - eight years. Two weeks ago. Both boys are bored and cranky. Their friends can’t play which leaves them brother-bound or alone. I chase them outside.

A half hour later, from the window, I see them fright-still with our neighbor, Steve. They are all staring at a Spirea bush. I wave. “Snake,” mouths Steve and points. I am out the door in a whip. Back up! Get away! What kind is it? “It’s green,” says Steve. It moves and he and I back way, way, up. Both my sons move closer and I begin the tirade of anti-snake catching rah-rah.

But, they’ve grown past my fear.

For two hours they play together, poke bushes, squeal as the green snake rushes faster than water past their feet and into a sand cherry bush, a witches’ broom, a rabbit brush. They finally catch it in the apple tree. Gently they put it in a shop-vac box complete with foliage, water, and rocks. They take pictures, and then let the snake go under the pines.

Even in our own backyards there are things to fear. At times it seems this is indeed a glass world and rocks fly everywhere.

But, our job is to grow into and then past our fears. Again and again. Do I still wish them afraid of snakes? No. It won’t keep them safe.

It comes down to luck and a prayer: luck to not come knee to fang with a rattler, and a prayer to get us through when lurking, shadow-hidden, sudden-striking bad things do happen – because worse than snake-bit is all around us.

We must keep learning to walk straight and steady into fear. And then, when the fear becomes ordinary, and it will, we can say, “Wow – I never thought I could do it.”

We are a brave bunch, the lot of us. God knows we are.