A headline the other day caught my attention: “New Snake Discovered.”
I assumed it was just another story about the latest politician getting caught with his/her paw in the cookie jar and deciding it was time to resign from public service in order to spend more time with his/her family.
But as I read on, I found that it was a different kind of snake.
This one has scales, crawls on its belly and is named “Matilda.”
One of the researchers who discovered the new species in Nairobi, Kenya, named the snake after his daughter. Apparently in Kenya it’s considered an honor to have a snake named after you.
If the snake had been a boy it might have been named Ralph.
My fishing buddy once gave a name to a snake he accidentally stepped on. Due to the restraints of a family newspaper I can’t tell you what name he called it, but it wasn’t “Matilda” or “Ralph.”
I likewise heard my grandma name a snake one morning when she reached into a chicken coop to fetch an egg and grabbed a big chicken snake instead. She didn’t name her snake “Matilda” either.
Until that moment I never realized that my grandma had been a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps. That’s the only other place I’ve ever heard that sort of language.
According to the AP dispatch our newest reptile “has menacing-looking yellow and black scales, dull green eyes, and two spiky horns.” At first I thought they’d caught my cousin Bernie.
Despite its menacing appearance the researchers said the snake is “probably” not venomous. That wouldn’t be very assuring if Matilda suddenly slithered up your britches leg. (“Remain calm. It’s ‘probably’ just looking around.”)
Snakes have always had a bad reputation, dating back to that misunderstanding in the Garden of Eden when the serpent tempted Eve, after a couple of cocktails, to come back to his place. No, wait, I’m thinking of Michael Douglas in “Fatal Attraction” when he messed around with Glenn Close and got his bunny stewed.
Back to snakes: when someone’s sneaky, deceitful and generally low-down they’re called “a snake in the grass.”
When someone doesn’t tell the truth, Native Americans say they “speak with forked tongue.”
When an athlete or sports team has a run of bad luck we say they’re “snake-bit.”
Some people are deathly afraid of snakes. A fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia and scientists believe it might be innate and inbred– the same way a cat is genetically engineered to be afraid of a dog.
During the dawn of mankind if someone were bitten by a venomous snake the bite would almost certainly be fatal. If a cave man walked out to get the paper one morning and stepped on a venomous snake that meant more room in the cave for everybody else.
Today, thanks to education, enlightenment and The Animal Planet, we know that snakes are generally harmless. Bites by venomous snakes are rare and very seldom fatal, thanks to anti-venom serum and available medical attention.
In Tennessee it’s against the law to harm a snake unless it presents a clear and present danger, such as being coiled up in your Barco-Lounger. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.
In other words, don’t mess with Matilda and Matilda won’t mess with you.
Larry Woody can be contacted at email@example.com.