Snakes

That’s River Phoenix as Young Indy in a scene from the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It was a scene that helped to explain Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes clearly evident in the first Jones’ movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” River, in this photo, was covered in garter snakes – frightening enough, but not life-threatening. In “Raiders,” Harrison Ford as the adult Indy, found himself in a large den of venomous snakes. By the way, for those of you who enjoy doing crossword puzzles, a fear of snakes is known as “ophidiophobia.”

My godmother Doris lived for many years in Inwood, Manitoba, a hamlet about an hour from Winnipeg, the provincial capitol. Doris is no longer with us, but she was special to me, my sister and our parents. When I think of Doris I am reminded of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child and how her voice would rise an octave or two. And it would be difficult for Doris to contain her excitement knowing that the New York Times, on June 16 of this year, had just done a piece on the snakes of Narcisse, Manitoba, just a few minutes from where she had lived. The Times headlined the article, “Tokyo has its cherry blossoms, the Netherlands has its tulip fields, and Paris offers itself. But the Canadian province of Manitoba has a remarkably distinctive springtime attraction too: tens of thousands of amorous snakes writhing around in pits.” In good company obviously, and sounds kind of sexy.

Late May is the mating time for red-sided garter snakes, and Narcisse appears to be the ideal place. The Narcisse snake dens accommodate some 70,000 snakes, and attract several thousand curiosity seekers each year. Among them is a biology professor from Oregon State University, who has come to Narcisse in each of the past 37 years. I’m not sure why one year wouldn’t suffice, but the professor explains that the snakes form a ball, with males surrounding a larger female in order to copulate. Apparently males outnumber females by a hundred to one. Not the kinds of odds I would warm to.

Apart from the 10 days in spring when the snakes are cavorting, there is not a lot going on in Inwood or Narcisse (Narcisse has a gas station and little else). But those ever-enterprising Manitobans – not to be outdone by the French with their Eiffel Tower or the Americans with their Statue of Liberty – have come up with a statue of Sam and Sara to stimulate tourism. As if 70,000 snakes weren’t enough.

And not to forget “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Here is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones confronting his worst fear. Time to watch the movie again …