A Reporter With a Fear of Snakes Joins a Snake Catcher

The carpet python in the car didn’t seem angry, but it was certainly curious.

The snake, thankfully, was contained inside a navy blue canvas bag, its temporary enclosure until a snake catcher and I arrived at its release location. It lifted its body, exploring the space. I watched it push the fabric this way and that from inside the bag, as if performing a peculiar puppet show.

It would have been funny, had I not felt slightly sick.

When I pitched an article about snake catchers on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, where snake encounters are becoming increasingly common as the climate changes, I had somehow forgotten that reporting on snakes would require spending quite a bit of time with them.

I spent part of my childhood in Singapore, where snakes were an infrequent, but still present, part of our lives. We once found a cobra snoozing behind a framed picture that was propped up against the wall. News of neighbors’ missing pets sometimes preceded sightings of suspiciously well-fed pythons. I still remember the anxiety that followed a sudden, stealthy swish of long grass. And then there’s a gruesome memory of an irate snake fighting one of our cats, Fudge. (Fudge made it out unscathed. I can’t say the same for the snake.)

For a time, I steered clear of walking on grass and even dark-colored carpets.

When I was about 12, my family relocated to New Zealand, which has no native land snakes. I mostly forgot about them. Recently, I was able to watch videos of snake catchers without flinching, and I wondered whether I had shaken my fear. But in February, while on vacation in Thailand, I came across a dead snake smeared across the asphalt. It felt like my heart had leaped into my mouth.

A venomous red-bellied black snake being released in bush land on the Sunshine Coast.Credit…David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

I realized that if I was to avoid professional embarrassment to report my article, I needed the help of an expert. A few days before flying to the Sunshine Coast, a subtropical area in the Australian state of Queensland home to many snake species, I spoke to Shawn Goldberg, a psychologist in Melbourne who has worked with people who have phobias.

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