Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Terror of Tall Grass

Few things in life are more terrifying than tall grass. And I mean full-blown, heart-pounding, holy hell horrifying. It is not the sod itself, but the unseen hidden therein.

Before we were married, my husband once asked me to cut across an unmowed farm field. We started the shortcut, progressing through the pasture in waist high weeds until he turned to find his typically fearless fiancĂ© fighting back tears, flapping her hands with her bottom lip bitten so firmly there was blood. Needless to say we did an about face, piggy backed out of there and took the long way ‘round. To this day, my complete meltdown in an overgrown meadow still fascinates him to no end as being completely out of character. But it’s not an unfounded fear. It’s an anxiety forged in my formative years.

Growing up in Southern Kansas, in an area with more venomous vipers per square mile than nearly anywhere else in the northwestern hemisphere, few things were pounded into my head harder than snake safety. Don’t climb on rocks! Don’t reach into woodpiles! Don’t wade in muddy water! And never, not ever, no matter what...go walking in TALL GRASS! In the days before cell phones, we were even taught to take a pocketknife and make a cut to prevent the poison of a snakebite from spreading. Real nightmare stuff for an elementary aged kid. Especially one with a vehemently vivid imagination.

I would picture them poised beneath my bed prepared to pounce as I jumped onto my mattress to prevent them from piercing my ankles. I would check out books from the library about snakes, then be terrified to turn the pages because they might magically manage to bite me as I did. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was my own personal hero as he slayed the vile vipers that set out to spite the world.

And sure, the childhood nonsense passed. I even faced my fear of our footless friends and have done very well with it. I have encountered many a snake without completely losing my mind. I have touched them. I have held them. I have even fed them. But these were all serpents I saw coming. Had prepared myself for. It’s the unexpected encounters I’m not so fond of.

Like the time my friend and I were collecting cans as kids and she lifted one to a rattling response FROM INSIDE THE CAN! Or the time my sister, as a toddler, was running and squatting chasing after something that turned out to be A COTTONMOUTH! Or the time I was so entranced trying to decide if a small snake near some stairs was dead that I almost missed the larger one SPRINGING OUT BEHIND IT!

But the absolute worst was the time in college when one of my roommates snuck a snake into our apartment to quietly care for it unnoticed over spring break. One evening, as my then-boyfriend-now-husband was preparing to leave, she started screaming for help in her bedroom. I rushed to her door before freezing in fear as I locked eyes with a very large, very lengthy, very unanticipated cold blooded creature tightening its grip AROUND HER NECK! Thankfully my date did something because I was stunned completely still. He looked her in the face, apologized for what he was about to do, then reached into my roommate’s nightshirt and fearlessly retrieved the reptile and returned it to its enclosure. I was infuriated and incredulous less at the snake and more at the surprise.

And there’s a higher likelihood of an unpleasant surprise when you step directly on something you can’t see and that something doesn’t like being stepped on. And I can’t say that I would really blame a snake for lashing out in retaliation. I mean if someone came tramping into my house and stomped on me I’d bite the bejesus out of them too.

And you can tell me over and over about how most snakes aren’t poisonous. Well great, glad to hear that the unseen “snake in the grass” that’s going to bite me, possibly repeatedly, isn’t poisonous. Yes. That’s where that idiom comes from. From something real. Something dangerous. Something unseen lurking in that full-blown, heart-pounding, holy hell horror of that terrifying terrain…tall grass.

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