This past Sunday morning I found myself in a chapter of a Stephen King novel. It began as a hot, lazy, humid, and deliciously quiet morning. I got up to fix a cup of my favorite morning Joe, send off a few emails, and read the Sunday papers on the back porch of the house.
My screen door was jammed, so I looked to see if it was off its track. But it wasn’t. It was hot and humid, so maybe the wooden doors were swollen and sticking. They weren’t. I tugged at the screen door a few times with no success. I then decided to take a closer look.
The problem was a four-to-five-feet-long red-tailed boa constrictor wedged into the track of the sliding door. In our first and never again face-to-face encounter, the boa poked its head up, greeting me with a hiss, and I responded with a blood-curdling scream.
When the Cambridge police finally came — they told me this was not a priority and it might take them anywhere from two-to-three hours to arrive — they captured it and took my slithering visitor to Petco.
I’m not an ophidiophobic like Indiana Jones, title character and protagonist played by actor Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones franchise, who detests the mere sight of snakes. But I don’t like them up close and personal, like in my face and at my door, for the inherent danger they engender.
Ever since the beguiling acts of the serpent in the Garden of Eden causing the fall of Adam and Eve, these slithering reptiles have gotten a bad rap, and of biblical proportions. These negative views of snakes are also replete throughout literature and films.
For us Harry Potter fans there was no better personification of evil outside of Voldemort than his snake Nagini. And Voldemort’s ability to communicate with Nagini was because of his rare and unique gift to speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes. Snakes and action horror flicks go hand-in-hand because of most people’s strong fear and fascination with these scary legless reptiles. And these flicks’ objective is to leave an indelible imprint of fear.
Case in point: the 2006 film Snakes on a Plane starring Samuel L. Jackson. All I remember of the film is the 300 poisonous snakes let loose in the passenger cabin of a plane to kill everyone. Why the snakes were on the plane, how they got on the plane, and where the flight was heading I have no recollection of.
Most pet owners, myself included, have at least one frightening story of their pet getting out of the house. Constrictor snakes, like red-tailed boa constrictors, on the loose have recently become a common problem and one that is not just a nuisance, but can also have dire consequences.
The Humane Society website has put out an advisory stating the following:
”Children, parents, and authorities are finding released or escaped pet pythons, boa constrictors, and anacondas all over the country, where they endanger communities, threaten ecosystems, and in many cases suffer tragic deaths. Frightened residents have discovered these deadly predators lurking in gardens, attacking pets and wildlife in their yards, and hiding in bathrooms, furniture, car engines, delivery trucks, and rental cars. The snakes have been spotted climbing staircases, sunning themselves on picnic tables, curled up in swimming pools, abandoned in dumpsters, and slithering through hallways of apartment buildings and across streets, parking lots and driveways.”
Massachusetts has had its share of snakes on the loose, and I’m not the only Cambridge resident to find a boa constrictor in my house. On September 12, 2010 a man found a four-foot boa in his apartment. The snake had entered through an open window seeking warmth. Just last year, on July 3, a Malden man coming home was greeted by a four-foot red-tailed boa curled up on his porch.
There is no doubt that many people love these slithering beasts, and will house them on the ”down low” if illegally obtained. But, many who purchase these constrictor snakes as pets are doing them a grave disservice.
The specialized care needed to maintain these wild animals removed from their natural habitat is simply unattainable. And with all good intentions to care for constrictor snakes, too many sadly suffer, if not from willful neglect like abandonment and starvation, then from common maladies like respiratory infections, mouth rot, dehydration and parasites.
In October 2009 in Fall River, a five-foot boa constrictor was finally caught after being spotted for five days sunbathing on the rooftop of a six-family apartment building. A former tenant abandoned the snake sick with an upper respiratory infection and approximately 10 pounds underweight.
I’m still rattled by Sunday’s visitor, suffering, no doubt, from PTSD — post-traumatic snake disorder! But the good news is that I got up the next morning, opened the porch screen door, and breathed a sigh of relief. No snake! I wished myself a great but an uneventful day. And it was.
In keeping with the theme of uneventful summer days, I won’t be grilling or sitting on the back porch any time soon.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.