The Last Half Century

Grabbing Fear by the Tail

It’s pretty simple. I don’t like snakes. Some people have a fear of heights. I have a fear of snakes. I’m not exactly sure where this fear originated because I grew up in a colder climate where small garter snakes were the only ones I saw on our farm. I have a hunch it started when my dad bought some property in southern Tennessee.

My dad was a Navy veteran and he loved boating. The land he bought was on a river and he had this idea he would open a marina when he retired. I think I was 13 years old when my dad first took me to visit the property. “Watch for snakes,” my dad told me as we walked through tall grass near the river. “They have rattlers down here,” he added. My eyes instantly grew big as I recalled a picture I saw in the local paper with someone holding a large, eight-foot snake they caught in their garage. “That was no garter snake,” I told myself. My senses were on high alert.

The next day we visited the neighbors who had a house next to my dad’s land. I vividly recall sitting in their living room sipping ice tea as this older man in his 60s began to tell us tales of all his snake encounters. “I shot a big old copper head back in the barn there,” he said between sips of tea as he nodded his head toward the barn behind his house. “It was at least six feet long.” I wondered if the snake grew longer with each telling of the story. That trip made an impression on me.

Fortunately I married a nature lover who is not scared of snakes or most any critter. She rescued me many times after hearing my screams when I uncovered a snake in my garden or in the yard. “It’s just a garter snake,” she would politely smile and reassure me as she picked it up. “Yeah, but it’s still a snake,” I would remind her. Picking up a snake may have seemed like no big deal to her, but to me it’s a pretty heroic act. Pretty gutsy.

Just writing about my fear of snakes is making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It brings back memories of other snake encounters in the last half century of my life — like the large coiled one I almost stepped on when I was helping portage a canoe over a pile of rocks. Okay, that’s enough of that memory.

More recently I have been working on overcoming my fear of snakes. Last time I visited a zoo I actually walked inside the reptile house. I went up to the glass and forced myself to look at a big snake coiled up under a heat lamp. I looked it straight in the eyes and told myself, “You don’t scare me.” I’m not quite at the point where I would actually pick up a snake by the tail — I’m not sure I’ll ever get there — but I’m making progress. Sometimes you just need to face your fears head on and go from there.

Poems · The Next Half Century

The Distant Ring of Hope

So many fallen

An invisible force

Young and old

Taken from us

No family nearby

Last breathe taken

Loved ones mourn

Out of reach

Death takes its toll

Virus or not

They die without

human touch

Everyday life

Under attack

Locked within

Personal space

Familiar faces

On a screen

Close at hand

Yet so far away

Trees turn green

Thunder claps loud

Spring flowers bloom

Time presses on

Yet memories remain

Of this mournful time

Solemn faces

Upon our minds

Unseen enemy

Still lurks out there

Distant scared faces

Hidden behind masks

Faded thoughts

Of earlier times

Embracing loved ones

Laughing together

Can we ever return

To that innocent time

Of warm embraces

Unhindered social times

In the silent streets

The barren rooms

The empty halls

I hear a distant sound

In this horrific time

This historic time

I still hear the ring

From bells of hope

© 2020 CGThelen

This poem was written as I reflected on the U.S. reaching nearly 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.