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I come by my snake-phobia honestly; my mom was the fiercest anti-snake crusader I’ve ever known, with the possible exception of my Aunt Gina. Even a four-inch ringneck would arouse her antipathy. For her, there were only two ways of approaching a snake – with a shovel or with a shotgun.

That’s why sad news such as this week’s death of a man at Sam A. Baker State Park after picking up a copperhead is not just sad, but enlightening. I would no sooner pick up a snake – any snake – than I would pick up a lit firecracker. Whatever you think of snakes, misunderstood outcasts of the animal kingdom or symbols of the Devil himself, the fact remains that they are wild animals that survive by biting things. Anybody who thinks they can pick one up without getting bit had better be a trained herpetologist, or else they’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

Over the years I’ve managed to calm my snake-a-noia to some extent, although not entirely. When we first moved to the farm where I grew up, the house had been used only on weekends for several years, and wild things had retaken much of the territory. I often ran over copperheads while mowing the lawn, and on one memorable occasion actually stepped across one before noticing that it was underneath my stride. Those kinds of childhood experiences tend to, shall we say, fix themselves in the subconscious.

Currently, there’s a four-foot blacksnake (now officially referred to as the Texas ratsnake) living around our backyard. I’ve worked out an uneasy truce in my head with it, and I recognize its value in keeping down the mice and voles. (The bluebird boxes are another matter, currently surrounded by a protective barrier.) But Lord help us both if I ever step on that sucker in the dark some night.