As the weather warms up, snakes will slowly but surely begin to come out of hiding.
When this happens, some people may have the gut reaction to panic or run. A series of four classes titled “Building Connections with Snakes,” hosted by Hearth Folk School from June 2 to July 14 aims to dig deeper into that gut-reaction and explore the value that snakes bring to the environment, as well as how they interact with culture.
Each class, led by Roy Blodgett, will take place in a different location around the county and will address a different aspect of snake history and culture. The four classes will take place at Ragle Ranch in Sebastopol, the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol, Shiloh Ranch in Windsor and Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen.
Each location was chosen to show a different type of environment that the creatures exist in.
“I feel that Sonoma County is this incredible place that offers multiple different ecological communities,” Blodgett said of his decision to have the class sessions jump around to different locations. “I wanted to get to experience different ecologies within the county — they have different species of snakes, but they also have different cultures.”
The classes will tackle topics primarily related to both a snake’s role in the environment as well as the species’ cultural presence, history and impact. Blodgett said that he isn’t aiming to act as a teacher, rather a facilitator of discussion.
While the classes will likely build on each other in some respects, going to every session isn’t mandatory. Blodgett said that his intention is to have each respective session stand alone, but he believes that attending the entire arc of classes will create a “more comprehensive and holistic experience.”
By participating in different discussions and studies of snakes, he hopes people will begin to understand snakes and view them in a different light.
“I’ve partnered with a lot of people in overcoming their fear of snakes and helping them to have a more empowered relationship with them that is not so reactive,” Blodgett said. “I really feel that though there are definitely aspects of the fear of snakes that are innate, there are also other aspects of a fear of snakes that are really damaging.”
Blodgett continued, saying that though in some cases a fear of snakes is justified, he also believes that there’s a cultural way to look at those who may fear the reptiles, especially when it comes to people in the western world — and by trying to conquer their fear of snakes, people can apply their experience elsewhere.
“I think by approaching things we’re afraid of with curiosity and reverence … it’s actually really empowering and there’s potentially changing and softening that can occur,” he said.
While Blodgett doesn’t have formal education when it comes to snakes, he grew up in a household that kept them as pets and has continued to educate himself on the reptiles, as well as observe them.
“I think for long periods of my life, particularly through my formative years, I spent a lot more time with my animals and with snakes both at home and in the wild than I did with people,” he said.
“They had a lot to give me that at the time I wasn’t really coherently understanding … there’s this entire community of plants and animals that really I just felt were giving me so much.”
This deep respect for snakes is something that Blodgett is looking forward to sharing with those who sign up for his classes.
“I feel really curious to see what people will bring and what kind of inquiry and questioning will emerge, and also what depth we will be able to go to,” he said. “I feel privileged for the opportunity. I feel excited to potentially help folks and offer some healing for people.”
The price of the series varies depending on the number of classes you sign up for ($30 for one session, $30 for two, $85 for three and $110 for all four). To register for a class or to view more information, visit hearthfolkschool.com.
June 2, 9:30 a.m. to noon
Location: Ragle Ranch Regional Park, Sebastopol.
Focus: Exploring the varied lives of our native snakes — their natural histories, life cycles and ecological roles.
June 16, 9:30 a.m. to noon
Location: Laguna de Santa Rosa, Sebastopol.
Focus: Learning to see snakes as expressions of the land — how their physiology and behavior can serve to illuminate their ecological roles, and how certain ecological communities can speak to which species of snakes they may harbor.
June 30, 9:30 a.m. to noon
Location: Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, Windsor.
Focus: Snakes and people — discussing how humans have related to snakes across cultures, from profound reverence to fear, and the role snakes may have played in the development of the human mind.
July 14, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Location: Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen.
Focus: Rattlesnakes — exploring the intersections of their culture and ours, and how me might renegotiate relationship with these feared and powerful creatures.