I love snakes. As a kid, I had many boas, corn snakes, fox snakes, and once a speckled king snake that was as beautiful and lithe as yellow-dotted fine silk. It was truly lovely. I love drawing snakes as they are kind of one fluid line that curls and loops, never achieving an actual angle. Snake lines just kind of walk around on the picture-plane.
I worked in a pet shop in high school that dealt largely in exotic reptiles. The guys who ran this place were also collectors of reptiles and falconers. They were fascinating guys who knew a lot about nature and natural history. They were especially adept at getting rare, barely-legal kinds of reptiles, including rear-fanged poisonous snakes and odd specimens like the Spilotes snake, which was a gorgeous black, yellow and white, and crazy-fast. He was also a very big (six feet) and ill-tempered motherfucker. This pet store was a wonder to me. We got ferocious monitor lizards, as well as gentle chuckwallas and iguanas, one of which grew to be five feet long. For me, though, the snakes were the treat. KWI Pets got everything from reticulated pythons, Burmese pythons and rosy boa constrictors to shimmering black Indigo snakes that moved like liquid poetry. It was a great place to work.
There is much lore surrounding snakes in Native American culture. They are harbingers of storms, earthquakes and floods, as well as an ominous symbol of the near proximity of enemies. It is a bad foreshadowing of things to come if one senses that the snakes are angry. The lowly snake is able to feel the earth with its belly and is, therefore, a powerful spirit. Horses are scared shitless of them . . . the snake is a powerful talisman.
Years ago I traveled the West and came upon a diner in Wyoming that had a tank full of prairie rattlers outside of it; big heavy-bodied, sons-of-bitches who love-you-not. I thought they were SO boss, this glass box full of godless, undulating, death writhing in red dirt.
Ever since Christianity put the stink on snakes, they’ve been a symbol of the outlaw, the sexual, the other. What I always loved about them as a kid was that they scared the shit out of everyone. I used to taunt little girls with garter snakes that I’d caught. One day I found a girl who was not the least bit scared of snakes–Kim Florence. We were in fifth grade and she had more snakes than I did. Naturally, I fell madly in fifth grade love with her; she was my first girlfriend. She later kissed me off for a boy with dirty hair and a guitar, but my love for snakes and their dangerous kind of cool went unabated.
In Texas every year, a bunch of fucking Neanderthals get together and kill rattlesnakes by the thousands, even though they are among the most useful of creatures eating mice, rats, gophers and even other snakes.
Many Native American tribes have “Snake-Dances” that celebrate the power and mystery of these amazing creatures.