“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt
— Jack Scaredypants Knox
The view from the top of my desk is spectacular. It’s like standing on the highest peak in a mountain range: An expanse of pale-blue cubicles stretches all the way to the advertising department. Don’t know why I never climbed up here before.
I have been enjoying this vista since Tuesday, when Saanich Police let it be known that a large, pale yellow snake might — might, mind you — be on the loose.
A resident of Linwood Avenue, near Tolmie, has spied it several times since Christmas, always late at night or in the early morning.
Note that the snake has not been seen since March 19. Motion-activated cameras haven’t recorded any sign of the critter. Nor is there any indication that it is dangerous.
Outside of your ex, there are no poisonous snakes on Vancouver Island. Most snakes aren’t (unless you live in Australia, which is more of a hold-my-beer-and-watch-this dare than a proper country, anyway).
Never mind. I don’t like snakes, particularly when they appear as a surprise. Once, while snorkelling in an impossibly clear bay in Mexico, I saw a large snake swim directly beneath me. My wife said I didn’t swim ashore so much as bolt up and run along the surface like a panicked Jesus, flippers and all. Twenty years later, I can almost step barefoot on a beached length of bull kelp without squealing.
I know I am not alone. When the TC ran the yellow-snake story this week, it was far more highly read than articles on less-serious matters such as money laundering, the Mueller report or climate change. This echoed reader response to the Snake in a Drain saga of 2016, when city workers stumbled across a five-foot corn snake blocking a Quadra Street pipe. It took eight squirming days to free the serpent, which went on to gain fame as a political analyst for Fox News.
No, no, no, that last crack is the kind of snakism that makes people like Patrick Gregory shake his head. The Mill Bay man is professor emeritus at UVic, a herpetologist who has spent his career focusing on snakes, handling thousands of them without a second thought. And, sadly, he is used to snakes only making the news when the story contains an element that makes people afraid (which is also the same way Fox covers Muslims and Mexicans). If the only time you think of something is when it’s presented in a negative context, that’s what shapes your perspective.
Gregory actually has sympathy for those who are crippled by an irrational fear of snakes, all snakes, even the little garters that couldn’t do much damage if they wanted to. He has met people who can’t even bear to look at a picture of one.
“I recognize that it’s a serious problem for some people,” Gregory says. “It’s just that it’s so foreign to my own experience that I have trouble understanding it.”
Of course, snakes aren’t alone when it comes to irrational loathing. Many of us fear all sorts of things — spiders, flying, germs, teenagers, Leafs fans — out of all proportion to any threat they pose. Part of that is down to us losing the ability to distinguish between possibility and probability and to respond appropriately. We freaked out when SARS killed 44 Canadians in 2003, but are nonchalant about the flu, which claims up to 8,000 annually. We won’t let our kids walk to school lest some imaginary predator get them, yet we feed them deep-fried diabetes.
Likewise, in the post-9/11 upheaval, we acted as though everything from the legislature to the Luxton Rodeo was not just a potential target but a certain one, right after CIA headquarters on bin Laden’s to-do list. Canada was treated as a jumping-off point for al-Qaeda, even though when it comes to shooting Americans on U.S. soil, the score remains Dick Cheney 1, Canadian-based terrorists 0. Fear makes us stupid. It’s where racism and xenophobia find their roots.
As for the Saanich serpent, I can probably get down from my desk now.
“Assuming it’s non-venomous, which most snakes in the pet trade are, it should be nothing to worry about,” Gregory says.