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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features February 06, 2016

6/9/2014 6:00:00 AM
Column: Anyone care to be first to face ophidophobia?
by Judy Bluhm

There is a snake in the barn! Yes, I was sliding open the front door of the breezeway one morning, seeing my four horses with their pretty heads poking out of their stalls greeting me as they waited for breakfast. One step into the breezeway I saw the viper coiled up in a corner, large, slick, scaly body in a circle with his evil head held up and beady eyes glaring at me. I froze and stood still like a statue, because I heard that snakes are attracted to movement. And I did not want to attract a snake!

I thought it was a bullsnake, a friendly (if there is such a thing) reptile who is a "good snake" to have around. Of course, he looked quite menacing at about six feet long, with a yellowish tan pattern and I was relieved he did not rattle. But not being a snake expert, and unable to walk through the breezeway to the hay storage to feed my horses, I did the only sensible thing... run! I scooted out of the barn and headed up to the house. My young mare, Princess, got so upset when she saw me turn and leave that she trotted out of her stall and ran after me. Snorting and neighing, as if to say, "Stop, don't go, you forgot to feed us!" She was completely distraught when she watched me close the pasture gate behind her.

I knew I had a wildlife book around that would show me photos of snakes, so I could figure out who exactly the intruder was. And Doug, my husband, was gone, so I was on my own. I looked up snake pictures but wasn't sure if it was a bull snake or a rattler so I put on my big, knee high rubber boots as a precaution, grabbed a pair of goggles from Doug's workbench and put them on (in case the snake spit in my eye) and pulled on a pair of leather gloves (not sure why). Since the tools and brooms in the barn were leaning on the wall where the devilish snake was laying, I grabbed a big shovel from the garage, took a deep breath and headed back down to face my reptile.

My girlfriend said I should have grabbed my gun. Oh yeah, and what if I shot at a slithering viper and the bullet ricocheted in the barn, bouncing around and killing a horse? My daughter said I should have called 9-1-1. Hey, I live in Skull Valley; no one is coming any time soon. My grandson said I should have gotten my phone and taken a photo of the serpent and sent it to the reptile expert at the zoo so they could tell me if it was poisonous. A neighbor said I should have had a stiff drink and grabbed a knife. At 6:30 in the morning? Too early for knives! Doug said I should have just gone about my business and "not worried" about a little snake. Of course I should worry! Snakes kill people! They slide on their bellies and can wrap around your ankles and crawl up your leg and bite you with razor sharp teeth and unload venom as quick as a lightning strike! My heart was pounding by the time I got back down to the barn.

Oh, did I mention that the "new spa experience" is to lay down and have a python (or two) wrap itself around you and give you a "snake massage?" Yes, some very expensive spas in Jakarta, Indonesia are offering a "Python Massage" as part of the Bali Heritage Reflexology. I am not making this up. People (fools) are paying big bucks for this "treatment" and now a few spas in California may start the practice. So the combination of the movement of the twisting snakes and the adrenalin triggered by the poor customer's fear seems to have a "positive result in adjusting human metabolism." Yep, another way to lose weight. Let the nightmares begin... just have a few "twisting" pythons placed on your back and you will never, ever eat again. Why? Because what they aren't telling you is that death is imminent! From a heart attack!

Oh, back to my own twisting snake story. I was in a cold sweat as I trudged down to the barn with knee-high boots, mask, shovel and adrenalin rushing through me. Did you know that one of the greatest phobias in the world is ophidophobia, which is an unreasonable and abnormal fear of snakes? About one-third of all people in the world suffer from ophidophobia to the point that they do not only fear contact with snakes, they cannot even see pictures of them, think about them or see them on television. Yes, vipers scare us.

My big horse, Baxter, has this phobia. One time on a ride, we encountered a rattler moving across our path. Other horses and riders scattered, legs hopping, feet pounding. But not my Baxter. No, he froze up like a huge brown horse sculpture, perfectly still and quiet, towering over the angry snake. Okay, that was good, But when the snake calmed down and decided to curl up in a coil two feet away, I was sitting nervously on an immovable beast. Like an oxen stuck in the mud, Baxter would not back up, step aside or do anything. We sat for a very long time that day on a path while a snake took a nap! Horses have feelings too.

Preparing myself for the encounter with the snake, I cautiously headed back into the barn. Four horses stared at me with their heads out of the stalls, nickering so I would know they were hungry. Armed with my shovel in front of me, phone in my pocket (to take a picture or call for help) I was shaking as I slid open the breezeway door. And just as life has it, when we are finally ready to meet our enemy head on and face the danger, we find ourselves alone. No snake in the corner, no snake anywhere that I could see. So I tiptoed around, anxiously feeding my horses and wondering where a giant reptile might hide.

I did not find our snake that day and have not seen him since. But I know he was there. And I know he could be back. But I will be prepared! Be careful, Dear Readers, for what lurks in quiet corners. Take comfort in knowing that together, we can face those demons and conquer our phobias... you go first.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at

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