People and their phobias. While walking the other day with a friend in a newly mown field – a backyard really – a slender eastern racer snake probably two feet long crossed in front of us. My friend, born and raised in Glendive, Mont., and tough as railroad spikes, jumped about three feet in the air and let out a scream heard in the next ZIP code. Everyone has their fears, phobias and hatreds when it comes to the natural world. Take your pick: from big grizzly bears down to swift snakes and itsy-bitsy spiders. Phobias affect more than one in ten people in the US, says the American Psychiatric Association, and of those individuals, up to 40 percent of phobias are related to bugs (including spiders), mice, snake and bats.That’s millions of people fearing creatures just going about their business. Personally, I’m good with seeing most wasps go to wasp heaven. Except certain wasp species sting and paralyze specific spiders, sealing them into nests with a wasp egg so the developing larva has something to eat. All right. Except spiders, generally, do us a favor by preying on pesky insects like house flies. Okay. Except house flies are nature’s garbage men (and women) quickly scavenging those animals that die. Wait a minute. Everything has its place. That’s a good thing and easy to understand. Phobias and irrational fears are harder to explain. Yes, there is that whole Bible thing about snakes, which didn’t turn out too well for the humans or the snake. And the snake has suffered ever since. Maybe that’s it. I barely remember as a young child standing by a lake and an adult asking me why I didn’t know how to swim. “Did you see a snake?” the lady asked. “Was there a snake by the dock?” Not knowing what to say and really afraid of admitting I just didn’t know how to swim, I answered: “Uh-huh.” As I recall, everyone seemed happy with that answer. And I learned, at least, it’s okay to fear snakes. I also learned it’s okay to bend the truth once in a while.          Or as Mark Twain said: “I would rather tell seven lies than make one explanation.” Our fears of certain creatures may derive from culture, or even bad Hollywood movies, but it’s important to remember native wildlife fill valuable roles.That eastern racer feeds on grasshoppers and small rodents, all pests of the gardener.  Because their prey is injurious to agriculture, according to “Amphibians and Reptiles of Montana,” racers are beneficial to farmers. When cornered eastern racers may bite, but generally they just want to escape if approached. And they don’t get the name racer from being sluggish about it. Still the sight of a fleeing snake can make a grown up scream. Believe me, I heard it. Look, I get that all sorts of people fear snakes; just not everyone, thank goodness. I know a young lady, small of stature, who loves the sight of a garter snake in her garden. My dad, however, was a big man who feared nothing….except snakes.       Me? I’m okay with snakes. And I’ve learned to swim.


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