Monday, August 14, 2017

COLUMN: Python

(Nnnnope. Not in a million billion kajillion years.)

I love this time of year.

Jackets start to come off, windows start to roll down. It's the Goldilocks time frame of the Midwest -- not too hot, not too cold. Best of all, it's early enough that we're yet to be plagued with mass swarms of water bugs or bees hellbent on pollenating yours truly. This is pretty much the only time of year that I enjoy stepping outside. But ever since I've moved into this house, it's also the time of year that has me most on edge.

It's happened three times now, and always in May. Freshly home from work, I'll be standing by the door fidgeting with the lock and see movement out of the corner of my eye. I'll turn and there it is: a very literal snake in the grass. I will respond by making a noise that sounds like a female toddler going, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

My neighborhood seems prone to occasional springtime visits from garter snakes, and I'll be having NONE of that, thanks.

According to the internet, garter snakes are the most wide-spread snakes in North America. "They are nearly harmless." Yeah, well, tell that to my palpitating heart, which nearly short-circuits every time I see one of those unholy terrors slithering around in my yard.  I'm well aware of the number of cheeseburgers I've consumed in my life, and I'm pretty sure there's a limited number of times my heart can suffer a full-on adrenaline rush before I'm a goner.

The first year I lived here, I stared out my window one day in abject horror as my neighbor calmly removed a den of garter snakes from his basement window well. He was just sort of absent-mindedly tossing snake after snake behind him, the majority of which were being caught and consumed in mid-air by a friendly neighborhood pit bull. This was NOT the kind of nature documentary I ever cared to witness.

I haven't seen any snakes in two years now, but I know they're out there somewhere, just waiting to slither up and give me a stroke when I'm least expecting it.

"But Shane," you say, "snakes are an important part of our ecosystem."

Yours, maybe. Not mine. My ecosystem involves air conditioning, ice cream, and frozen pizzas. Unless you can come at me with concrete proof that snakes play a vital role in the production of pepperoni, I will NOT accept your ecological arguments.

I think having a profound fear of snakes is perfectly justified. Garter snakes can't kill you, but that doesn't mean they don't have teeth. My cats are non-venomous, too, but that doesn't mean I let them bite me. Plus, cats have the good sense to grow legs and not slither across the ground like terrifying abominations of nature.

But if garter snakes are bad, imagine living someplace where deadly snakes can occasionally pop out for a mid-afternoon greeting.

As it turns out, Florida has a bit of a python problem at the moment. It's estimated that the Sunshine State has anywhere from 15,000 to 150,000 breath-squeezing, rib-crushing pythons in the wild. But don't worry, Floridians. Your government has the answer. Yes, this week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced a new public outreach program that should put the python infestation to rest. They call it the "Python Pickup Program."

The program is simple: If you're out in the Florida wild and suddenly find yourself in a life-and-death situation with a lethal python, all you need to do is capture and/or kill the little thing, take a selfie with it, send the photo into your nearest FFWCC office, and you will be the proud owner of... a commemorative "Python Pickup" t-shirt.

Wow. Up until now, if I needed a new t-shirt, I had to drive to a store and buy one. Now all I have to do is drive halfway across the country and beat up a snake. Thanks, Florida!

Look, I try not to stereotype. It's wrong to belittle the residents of an entire state based on midguided popular perceptions. But at the same time, I've also sat through exactly one-and-a-half episodes of a TV show called "Swamp People," so I'm clearly somewhat of an expert. And based on what I know about the Everglades, right now there is a guy (probably named Skeeter) turning to his friend (probably named Zeke) and excitedly screaming, "Hoo boy, Zeke! We can get us some t-shirts if we dun go whoop on some snakes! Fire up dat dere swampbuggy!"

I really don't like snakes. But if you're going to head out without training and voluntarily face-off against a deadly reptile that could coil around you and squeeze you dead, and your prime motivation for doing so is a free t-shirt from your local government? Well, in that case, I might just be cheering for Team Python. My only expertise in nature might come from watching Animal Planet, but I'm fairly certain the only people who should be picking fights with pythons are licensed zoologists and/or Australians in safari outfits.

The Midwest might not have majestic oceans or Disney magic, but we also don't have 14' long danger noodles, either. That's a fair trade in my book. Any state that needs to have a "python patrol" is very likely NOT the state for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a rainy, breezy, chilly, and relatively nature-free spring day to enjoy.

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