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The Snake in My Head

A garter snake is on the list of entities I’ve always thought of as ridiculously harmless. Like dandelions, cotton candy, soap bubbles, toads, puppies, primary colors, large print, milkshakes, and the board game Candyland.

So today I was weeding the periwinkle and startled a two-and-a-half foot striped snake sunning his/herself on the ledge at the back of the bed. I jumped back. The snake fell still, head raised in my direction. I yelled for Bob. He came out and told me it was not a copperhead at all, instead a garter snake. First time I realized I’d never seen one. It didn’t look like bubbles or cotton candy at all. More like, say, a pygmy rattler. But I let him/her alone and went back to my gardening — at a little distance. Next time I looked the snake was gone.

I didn’t want to make a pet of the creature, but neither did I have any sense of lingering alarm. Hours later near dusk, I grabbed a handful of weeds and dead leaves that squirmed in my hand. I gasped and tossed it, then discovered that the live thing was a toad that was hopping away from me at top toad speed.

What interests most me about all this is that the mini-burst of adrenaline on grabbing the toad probably would not have happened it not been for the earlier moment of alarm over the snake. Without even realizing it, I was expecting to stumble onto trouble.

This secondary reaction made me wonder what other and larger ways I may have conditioned myself to unnecessary wariness.

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Categories: conditioning, fear

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