While spiders used to terrify me, I’ve never been afraid of snakes. Lots of things are. Especially mammals and birds. Especially mammals and birds eaten by snakes. And especially mammals and birds that snakes can bite with lethally poisonous fangs. Nothing sets a troop of monkeys howling like a snake slithering through their midst. Chimps despise the beasts and become agitated and upset when they find one hanging around the encampment and they will let everyone in the forest know that this dust-eating beast is not welcome. Apparently, even chimps raised without ever having seen a snake will become alarmed when one is introduced for the first time. I don’t know about elephants. Something in the back of my mind says they are afraid of them too, but I’m too lazy to look it up. Snakes. Ever since Eden they’ve been a hated scourge. Many of you will relate to this sentiment. Not me. Well, that is until an event which I’ll relate later. Here are two proofs that I’m not afraid of snakes.
First Proof. Once, my son came running into the house and told me there was a snake in the back of our student apartment. I dashed outside and found a circle of screaming kids blocking the harangued serpent’s escape. Charging from the distance, came my neighbor, shirtless and grim faced, with a golf club gripped in his hand, ready tee-off the poor thing’s head down the fairway of our collective backyards. I grabbed the black rat snake and marched it to safety. It was ever grateful and became part of our family until about a year later when it was seduced by a gopher hole and disappeared forever from our lives. To this day the name Crazyhorse will elicit a collective sigh from my children and the statement, “I miss that snake.”
The second proof I offer in evidence of my fearlessness of snakes was while on a Boy Scout canoeing trip in North Carolina, a six-foot long black rat snake (yes same species as Crazyhorse (you can tell I’m not making this up or I would have chosen a different species to add variety and texture to my narrative)) came swimming past us. I grabbed it, but as I did, I realized that I’d grabbed it too far from the head and as it swung around to bite me I remember the thought flashing helplessly through my mind, “Man, I hope this isn’t a water-moccasin.” It’s funny how what you know in theory (small round head, must be a rat snake) is really put on the line when you commit yourself to those beliefs in irrevocable ways (oops, a really big black snake in the water, could be a ‘moccasin). It bit me hard. Two of my sons were there and both their reactions made me proud, one noticed that blood was streaming down my arm from the bite and said, “Dad are you OK?”, and the other observed, “Dad you are hurting the snake!” as he noticed that the snake’s jaw was askew where it had become disarticulated (as they do naturally to swallow large prey) as I held onto it’s head. Held it tightly, mind you. Both questions were delightful, for one son had focused on the fact that one of God’s precious creatures was being hurt and the other son had focused on the snake.
Now I am sad to relat that my relationship with snakes has suffered a dark reversal. Not one that made me afraid of them, but I no longer pluck them willy-nilly from their habitations. You see while at my wife’s grandparents a garner snake went by, and I, meaning no harm, grabbed it. Holding it properly by the head, I raised it up for my kids to see and it shat upon me. [Shat is a technical term among biologists, the present-tense form being a vulgar swear word, but as a past-tense verb it seems a calm and benign accoutrement and carries with it none of the harshness of its present-tense/other past-tense cousin. In fact it seems perfectly pleasant company. I can picture the scene: a proper Victorian couple having a continental breakfast on a garden terrace; a large English pastoral estate visible over the balustrade.
“Edward Dear, has the bear shat in the woods this morning?”
“Why no Pumpkin, he has not.”
“Well, I do hope he does so soon.”
“As do I.”
“More tea, My Dear?”
“Why, thank you Pumpkin, I think I shall”
“No. Thank you, my Dear.”
It’s something you might read in Trollope! (Although I fear my use of the word will be misconstrued and vulgarized by some and will once gain provide NothingWavering.org reason to continue to reject my beleaguered request for legitimacy as a faithful Mormon Blog.)]
My arm was covered with poop [note my refusal to use the vulgar noun]. But this was no ordinary poop. It stunk like nothing I’ve ever smelled. I mean we are talking Dante’s Ninth Circle stink. A stench of unimaginable vileness. I dropped the snake and hosed off the putrid guano, then ran to the sink to wash it clean and remove the smell. But the smell wouldn’t come off. Not with soap, Comet, laundry detergent, ammonia, vinegar, Ziff (only at a grandmother’s house could a bottle of this wondrous cleaning agent still be found), and Clorox—used as a last, skin destroying, futile attempt. It was as if the snake had placed an olfactory tattoo on my arm. It lasted two days. I kid you not. And I had to sniff at it about every hour to see if it was still there. I have not picked up a snake since.
Well, I’ve been over long in my preamble (preramble?), and I had to tell all this to set the stage for what I really want to talk about which is consciousness, free agency, and evolution. So I will break this into two parts.
In the meantime debate the use of certain Anglo-Saxon words in various conjugations (but be warned this is a family blog and I will censor the comments as ruthlessly as NothingWavering.org), and consider whether olfactory tattoos fall under the general tattoo prohibition. We’ll get to consciousness in Part II.