Snakes test trail-running resolve

This snake that showed up at the cross country team's pasta dinner didn't get me too worked up, but I'm still working on dealing with the ones I encounter on the trail.

This snake that showed up at the cross country team’s pasta dinner didn’t get me too worked up, but I’m still working on dealing with the ones I encounter on the trail.

Was the snake episode on Friday’s trail run a sign that my “brain rewiring” phobia rehab project is working?

I was still reviewing my mental videotape of that encounter the next day when Colleen and I stopped at Eagle Marsh to scout out running trails for an upcoming race. It was the perfect spot to consider the topic, given that this wetland preserve is literally crawling with life. Grasshoppers and frogs were constantly bounding out of our way with every step from the moment we got out of the car.

Technically, I thought I handled Friday’s situation pretty well. My sister and I have been taking a lot of spills on this particular trail at Oubache State Park and we were keeping an eye out for rocks and roots, so I spotted the 2 ½ foot garter snake a few steps ahead of time. It was on my side of the trail, though, so Traci didn’t see it. I stopped and nudged her arm, silently pointing out the snake, and she did the startled shrieking jump maneuver that I’m way more famous for.

She recovered quickly – she’s not nearly as weirded out by snakes as I am – and we went on our way, single file, giving it plenty of room to exit stage left.

That’s progress, right? I didn’t scream or jump or stare in morbid fascination until it  vanished from sight. Still, I was troubled by my speechless response – and so was my sister.

“Why didn’t you say something?” she asked as we sped off, finishing out the trail at a much quicker pace. “I thought you were just pointing out a stump or something!”

The truth was, my voice box had felt completely inoperable just then. Not paralyzed with fear, exactly. But I couldn’t seem to bring myself to say the word “snake,” as if … well, I don’t really know.

I was still puzzling over this Saturday as we explored Eagle Marsh, where once again the probability of spotting a snake was an unmentioned subject that nonetheless was constantly on my mind. There was a trail race coming up there that I’d been planning to run, hoping to test out my new resolve.

But without the presence of a thundering herd of runners, the trails were creeping me out: Wet, muddy, with ankle-high grass just a few feet from spectacular but oozing-with-life marshland. Colleen was fascinated, but we stuck pretty closely to the gravel path without quite saying why we were doing it.

I think the problem is that I need to periodically do maintenance work on that summer brain rewiring project that grew out of a long talk on a hike with my nephew Riley. Remind myself that my default image of a snake is now a small harmless garter fleeing my footsteps rather than the scary fast blue racers that made such an impression on me as a child.

Trouble was, I’m sure there are plenty of blue racers that reside at Eagle Marsh – and I’m still uneasy around those guys even after making this alleged truce with garter snakes.

The other problem was the “climbing snake” episode from last week’s recent cross country pasta dinner.

I didn’t think too much about it when the boys found a rather typical snake up on the brush-covered hill that borders our back yard. But it turns out that Scott, the coach, is about as creeped out by snakes as I am. As we stood there watching the boys handle the snake (which they eventually released unharmed), Scott kept looking up at this tree that nudges a porch overhang on our house. Then he told me about a snake he’d seen once that, when he looked it up, turned out to be good at climbing, and I realized he was visualizing a snake CLIMBING UP THAT TREE AND GETTING INTO OUR HOUSE.

It didn’t help to discover that the boys found this particular garter not on the ground, in the grass, but curled up around the stalk of some tallish weed.

So, was I really up to handling next weekend’s Salamander Sprint at Eagle Marsh? I’m still not in great shape, but I wasn’t concerned about that. Would I be terrified with every single step?

This was the question as Colleen and I were walking out the gravel driveway on Saturday. It was weird, we both agreed, that we hadn’t seen a single snake. Even though we hadn’t gone off on the interior trails, it was a sunny day and we were surprised they weren’t out sunning themselves – especially since the only humans on the property were the two of us and one other exceedingly quiet hiker.

Then, right as we got to the exit, Colleen spotted one scooting off the driveway into the grass. It was the exact picture of my recently reprogrammed “default image” of a small harmless garter.

I took that to be a good omen, along with the fact that I didn’t detect any spikes in my vital signs. We were even able to maintain our conversation the entire time.

Still, I noticed that I climbed over the guardrail rather than walking around in the grass where the snake had vanished. And the question of whether I’m brave enough for the Salamander Sprint turned out to be a moot point, as we discovered when we got home that the race has been canceled for some reason.

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