Snake 1, Bill 0

Adventures in ophidiophobia, aka my Florida freak-out

Our family recently visited friends who moved from New Hampshire to the Tampa area. During our stay, we stopped at a number of attractions, including a really great not-for-profit zoo. It went pretty much as I thought it would, until it became a danger-fraught experience from which I may never recover.

You’re supposed to see animals in zoos. It’s what you pay for and typically what happens. If you don’t see any animals, it’s very likely you’re in a field or perhaps a not-zoo. This was most definitely a zoo. We saw all kinds of animals, and my daughter even got to feed a giraffe.

What follows is an annotated narrative of our near-death experience that day.

16-year-old: “My dad took us to the zoo in Florida and he saw a snake and freaked out.”

Eventually, it became time to leave, and our group of eight made for the exit along a pathway. I was in front, so I was the first to spot the peril. A snake that I’d estimate to be about six feet long was blocking our path. This was not a reptilian exhibit, but an honest-to-goodness, Florida-native, non-animated, non-curated serpent.

16-year-old: “It was probably two feet long. No one cared.”

Not sure if I mentioned this yet, but I’m rather irrational when it comes to snakes.

My first thought was to avoid eye contact with it. It’s the hockey fight approach — if you don’t make eye contact, it’ll blow over before it grabs your jersey and flips your helmet off. But because it’s super easy to not make eye contact with a snake, this tactic quickly became irrelevant.

Instead, I did what anyone would do. I spun around and alerted the others with the international sign of danger. I said, “noooope” while passing them going the other way.

16-year-old: “He was being overly dramatic. It wasn’t doing anything.”

I am fully aware that with its warm, lush environment, Florida is a natural habitat for snakes and other evil creatures. Probably orcs.

16-year-old: “Not evil.”

As it turns out, this snake was of the delightful phylum. It’s charm offensive included completely ignoring us and getting itself into the underbrush nearby – but not before my daughter decided to sidle up to it, attempting to pat it. Here’s the thing: the way I see it, you don’t pat snakes. You especially don’t pat Florida snakes. The snakes we have here in New Hampshire are, for the most part, harmless. This is not the case in Florida, I think.

16-year-old: “It was cute.”

After our narrow escape, I went online and did a search. It turns out that this snake was probably an Eastern Racer. Totally harmless, aside from the coronary it nearly gave me just by existing and the hysterical laughter it elicited from my apparently fearless child.

Bill Burke is a writer who lives far, far away from snakes in southern New Hampshire (16-year-old: “He knows there are snakes here.”) with his wife and daughter. He is also Managing Editor of Custom Publications for McLean Communications.

Categories: Dad on Board

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