My biggest fear has been snakes for as long as I can remember- apparently, that is to age 6. When I was six we visited some family friends out in California. My brother, being four years older than me, did not want an annoying little sister following him around. (Keep in mind we were in our prime animosity years and I excel at psychological warfare.) Tensions were stretched tenuously thin because I interrupted a game of Zelda and subsequently was shoved down a loft shoot. Adults were on high alert to keep all children quiet and disengaged from each other. However, my brother just happened to be a bear I couldn’t keep from poking. I slipped through the enemy ranks to stalk my unsuspecting victims in the TV room. I cannot recollect what I did to make my presence known, but I do remember the results. I found myself pinned to the couch, forced to watch the 1997 movie Anaconda until my screams of duress brought the parental units running. Closing my eyes did not occur to my traumatized, innocent self and from that day forward I was unreasonably afraid of anything that slithered. I used to dream that the snake from Anaconda was going to make a half a worlds journey to come dine specifically on me. Or that I would wake up with a rattler on my chest and it would strike me before I could scream. I had thousands of nightmares and stolen daydreams plague me for years.
Well into my college years, I met a girl who loved snakes. She loved them so much that she actually went out looking for them in her spare time and called it “fun!” Her name is Katie Bentley, and she was one of my first friends at Warnell. She introduced me to a very special fellow that some of you might know- Corny, the most beautiful of all the corn snakes, melter of my heart, unraveller of 16 years of fear and anxiety.
I had not told Katie of my all-consuming snake fear when she handed me a snake at my very first herpetology meeting. This was possibly because I didn’t want to admit I was afraid of anything nature had to offer, especially to someone so comfortable with the things that unsettled me. At first, my heart was pounding, and I was stiff as a board having my version of an internal panic attack. I kept thinking, “You have to calm down, he is going to smell your fear!” and “If you get your blood all hot he is going to steal your energy and then eat you!” Obviously, I was very logical at the time. Either way, it worked out in my favor, and Corny spent the next 20 minutes easing my fears and becoming my best friend.
I like to believe Corny understood me. He seemed to snuggle a little closer in my hot, sweaty arms and just waited, and waited, and waited. Before I knew it, the meeting was over and it was time for Corny to return to his pillowcase. This past year I was given the opportunity to work with outreach animals as a student ambassador. Corny has taught me a lot about myself, and I have taught a lot of others about him! While I won’t remember every encounter, I can say without a doubt I have enjoyed every minute. Corny will always be the first snake to give me a neck massage, get tangled in my hair, and have my love. More importantly, his legacy is that he most certainly will not be the last.
Corny opened my eyes to a myriad of animals I neglected out of fear and lack of understanding. I encourage you all (Warnell and all the people who will ever read this) to search out the things for which you are fearful or ignorant, and LEARN about them. The world is a big, complex, strange, dangerous, beautiful place, and as stewards of the land, we cannot save her if we do not first strive to know her.