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The Specific Scent of Snakes

My friend Laura - she is friendly, outgoing, easy to talk to, and oh-so afraid of snakes!
My friend Laura – she is friendly, outgoing, easy to talk to, and oh-so afraid of snakes!

I have a friend named Laura who is very afraid of snakes.

She has a husband, two kids, and a Masters degree in Forestry and Wildlife Management.

Laura has been bitten by monkeys and rabbits and has faced down a whole room of Congresspeople without quailing.

But she becomes literally paralyzed with fear at the sight….or even the scent….of snakes.

Her full name is Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, and I know about her fear of snakes not because she is my longtime friend, colleague, and mentor, but because I recently read her memoir, titled (wait for it) “The Specific Scent of Snakes.”

While reading her memoir, I also learned about her life in rural Virginia, where she and her family lived in a house with (her words) “fallible electricity” and a party phone line, as well as a fairly eclectic assortment of animals including goats, rabbits, chickens, foxes, and, well, snakes.

I learned about her three heart-wrenching miscarriages – each losses that occurred long before she and I met, but which affected me perhaps even more deeply because of this.

I also learned how she began to make and sell her own soap and how, in the course of her healing process post-miscarriages, she came to adopt a baby son.

And I learned how amazingly good she became at denying the undeniable presence of snakes in her country home…until one day  when she finally met one of the household’s scalier residents face to face. 

TheSpecificScentofSnakesI finished “The Specific Scent of Snakes” in two evenings, but I suspect I will be pondering its effect on me for far longer.

You see, I have fears like this – fears that seem out of context with everything else about me.

I have certain fears that run so deep I frankly avoid even acknowledging them – it just feels easier, and safer, that way.

And I have fears that I have confronted, but the confrontation hasn’t helped. In other words, I have been willing to do the work to let them go, and yet, work completed, the fears continue to remain.

Beyond this, I have to say that reading anyone’s memoir is a challenge for me, but reading a dear friend’s memoir is much more so.

Reason being – it feels like being invited to take a guided tour of their underwear drawer or to rifle at will through their medicine cabinet.

The “memoir” as a writing style is just so personal, so raw, so gutsy, so anything-goes, and I never know what will happen next when I sign on for the ride.

What shines through so clearly for me after reading Laura’s memoir is that she didn’t know either – and she chose to take the ride anyway.

In other words, she chose to live….there is just no standing on the sidelines of life for this gal.

Truly, I can’t think of any quality I admire more – in anyone.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you harbor less-acknowledged fears – or fears so secret and severe you won’t even admit them to yourself? Do you ever find the presence of those fears trying to force you back onto the sidelines of your own life? How might your relationship with your own fears change if you decided to write your memoir? What might you learn about yourself that can make your fears easier to bear…and overcome?

The Specific Scent of Snakes

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2015). The Specific Scent of Snakes. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 May 2015
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