On a rare solitary walk recently, I came across a snakeskin in the middle of the road. Now I don’t have a particular fear of snakes—not like my late grandma Irene who used to faint at the sight of one. (Actually, family lore maintains that she would faint at the sight of even a plastic snake, though I was too sensitive a child to ever test the theory out.) In a dramatic departure from maternal precedent, I encourage my children to welcome summer's onslaught of backyard garter snakes. Look, I coax them near; see how we've made a safe home for all creation! I watch their boyish spines relax as unrest leaves, watch them stop shifting weight foot to foot and stand wordlessly in awe.
But even a would-be Franciscan has to admit there is something chilling about coming across a vacated snakeskin. There is an element of terror there, no matter how small the specimen. Snakes have too heavy a mythological significance for it to be otherwise.