A few weeks ago I almost stepped on a small snake as it slithered across the path in my front yard. I jumped back, startled, and the snake continued on its way along the side of our house. My heart beat rapidly as our dog Beau and I ran inside to share the news and look up the type of snake online. I discovered that we had just seen a king snake, a good one to have around because it’s a predator of rattlesnakes and rodents.

This wasn’t the first time I encountered a snake near the house. Years ago, on a hot July Fourth weekend, a gopher snake sought shade between a planter and the wall near our front door. My husband and our dog Shannon had not noticed it when they went out. I was about to leave with Shannon’s brother, Duffy, when I saw the snake stretched across the doorsill. “Step over it,” my husband said.

“No,” I replied. Shannon and I left through the side door.

That entire two-mile walk my husband, Don, and I discussed what to do about the snake when we returned home.

Upon our return, we found it lying in the shade on the grassy front lawn. Don tried to shoo it towards our hillside, which was riddled with gophers, to no avail. It slithered into our front flower bed.

Two hours later our neighbors arrived for a barbecue. “I’ll help you catch it,” the husband volunteered. He and Don searched the property and finally gave up, while his wife and I stayed inside preparing food. We never found the snake, and I did not tend those flower beds for about two years.

On Father’s Day one year, I found a long, multicolored, well-fed snake stretched across the hillside between our back and side yards. Unsure what type it was, I locked myself and the dogs in the house and ran to the window for a better view. It slowly slithered up the hillside, and sadly a neighbor found it dead in the street a few days later, apparently run over by a car. It was a harmless gopher snake.

As many readers know, I wrote about my fear of snakes in my memoir, What Lies Within. My older sister once threw a realistic-looking rubber rattlesnake in my face while our parents were out for the evening. I screamed so loudly that my mother came running home from the neighbor’s house where she had been.

At Girl Scout camp the following summer, I spotted snakes sunning on rocks in the very lake where we swam daily. After that, I became anxious each time I swam.

When I went to live with my uncle, we enjoyed weekend outings, like long drives up the coast or into the mountains. My least favorite activity was hiking, for fear I’d encounter a snake. I wish my uncle could have seen me trekking in the African bush or Australia’s Daintree National Park in recent years. He would have been proud.

Today I have a healthy fear of snakes, as I realize many offer great benefits, such as rodent removal. (I’ll discuss the pregnant rat who nested in our water heater cabinet in my next post.) Yet I still feel squeamish when I encounter one.

However, I was startled to discover a large warning sign when my husband and I went to the cemetery this week to visit my mother’s and uncle’s gravesites. The sign read “Caution: Beware of rattlesnakes.” I tiptoed carefully through the dry grass in my sandals as I came to pay my respects. I imagine my uncle would have had a good laugh about that.