Spring’s here and frogs are serenading us nightly from the pond.

I like nothing more than their music on a balmy evening, but weather warm enough for frogs is warm enough for snakes, and I’m not so fond of them.

Though I don’t have an uncommon fear of snakes, I will confess to showing them all due respect. Frogs I don’t have to identify, whether a toad, bullfrog, leopard frog or tree frog. None of them bite. One might surprise me, but they jump away, not at me.

Snakes are much the same. They might surprise me, and they almost always head in the other direction. But, some don’t. Some might bite — like rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths — and until I determine one slithering through the grass isn’t of the viper ilk, I treat it as if it were. I’m not chicken, just cautious. Given the option, I’ll take frogs, lizards, skinks and box turtles over snakes as spring’s harbingers any day.

At the same time, I like to see most kinds of snakes outside the yard and away from the house. It disappoints me a bit we don’t see as many as when I was young. It’s been years since I saw a green snake in a berry bush.

Martha and I don’t much agree on snakes, but she’s learned to share the strawberry patch with garden varieties. Still, when I once found a milk snake poking its head out of the barbecue grill, she didn’t think it all that cute.

As a rule, I think we’ve come a long way towards accepting snakes as a healthy part of the environment. Conservationists have done a good job of extolling their virtues. Still, I’ve yet to hear a valid argument for letting venomous snakes live anywhere near where I live. I know not many people are bitten by snakes, and few are killed, but I’d just as soon the biters keep their distance.

I’m not expert on the matter, but it seems to me we have an inborn fear of snakes. Some things we have to learn to fear, but some — like snakes — we have to learn to like.

Dad never did. When we first moved to the farm in the summer of 1957, Dad made it his mission to rid the place of snakes. He walked the place daily with a snake stick, killing every one he could find — and he found a bunch, from copperheads to blue racers. He made no distinction. In Dad’s mind, the only good snake was a dead snake.

I had to learn different. Early in my life I dispatched a few I wish I hadn’t — in particular a giant bull snake that likely kept copperheads thinned out.

In a lifetime of forays through the timber, I’ve never seen a timber rattler. The only rattlers I’ve ever seen were in Texas, though I know we have them here. I’ve taken pictures of dead ones, but not recently. Even in pictures, they’re fearsome looking.

I can’t imagine the shock to a Texas homeowner back in March when a “few” rattlesnakes under his rural home turned out to be 45, the largest more than five feet long. That’s what the professional snake removal people told him. And, just last week I read the president of Liberia — a country on the west coast of Africa — had brought in professionals to rid his office of snakes.

Just the fact that these places have professional snake removers would be a red flag for me. I’m happy in Missouri. A few garter snakes don’t worry me at all.

Copyright 2019, James E. Hamilton

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