December 30, 2011

What Might Have Been

Perusing a newspaper in Florida is like reading a press release for Snakes on a Plane. Nearly every day you will encounter a breaking news story about someone who was accidentally bitten by his pet black mamba or who woke up one morning to find a strange 10-foot Burmese python sunning itself on his back porch.

I eat this stuff up like candy, despite being deathly afraid of snakes. Part of it is just morbid curiosity--who in the world would have a pit viper in his house...on purpose?--and part of it has to do with planning. Living in the land of no rules, I know it's a matter of time until one of my kids starts begging for a rattlesnake.

"Compared to South Carolina, Florida has lots of animal regulations." This is what a local herpetologist told me yesterday afternoon, moments after handling a 12-foot cobra.

That isn't saying much.

My sister and brother-in-law are visiting from out of town this week. My commitment to exposing them to the best of what Florida has to offer is what led us to a local venom extraction lab. In response to public demand, the lab recently started hosting public viewings of venomous snake milkings a few times each week.

As a special holiday treat, the herpetologist decided to bring out some of his non-venomous friends for a pre-show meet and greet.

"Pass them around!" he said encouragingly as he plopped an albino ball python into my daughter's lap.

I hurdled over half a dozen other spectators as I bolted for the door.






As I watched from the safety of an outside viewing window, my kids taunted me with constrictors and hideously looking but totally innocuous black things, which they draped around their necks and passionately kissed. Around the same time as I watched Cortlen successfully coax a snake up the armhole of his shirt, I blacked out. Not really, but the sight made me so light-headed that I lost my balance and fell backward onto an aquarium containing a huge Eastern Diamondback.

Good times.

The venom extraction (which was, in all fairness, extraordinarily interesting and educational) ended with a Q&A session. One little boy from Washington D.C. asked the herpetologist if he had ever been bit by a poisonous snake (A: Yes, 11 times, including once in the face). Cortlen followed up with a query of own: "Do you need a helper?"

On the way out, my husband caught my daughter trying to buy a baby corn snake from the gift shop with her Christmas money.

She cried all the way home over what might have been.

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