I was seventeen, a few years into eclectic paganism that centered around animal wisdoms and my personal favorites, Snake and Bat. A tiny pet store opened up in my equally-tiny hometown, and they had snakes.
I was terrified of snakes in the wild and in my dreams. It took years of dreaming of snakes before the fear was laid to rest, but that time had yet to come. 17-year-old me was still equal parts enthralled and afraid of these beautiful, alien creatures.
I stared at them through the glass, my first time really able to observe a snake in close proximity. (The internet was very new back then, kids, and YouTube wasn't a thing yet. I'd only had a computer for about three years at that point.)
And I asked to hold one, a mostly-black California kingsnake. He slid through my fingers like water, and for the first time I knew how it felt when an animal made of nothing but sleek scales and endlessly flexible muscle moved against my palm. It was a strange and eye-opening experience, and it stayed with me.
In my youth--teenhood and young adulthood--I had a friend, who for the sake of this post I'll call Y. Y was an online acquaintance - we were friends on Livejournal before blogging was A Thing - who had an absolutely enrapturing charisma. She was fearless, beautiful, creative, wild. And she lived with birds and snakes.
I remember her talking about sitting down to watch TV with her snakes, hanging out as though these animals were sturdy and mild-mannered instead of the fraught and delicate creatures I'd built up in my head. Surely... surely I could never have a snake. They were too complex to care for, too frail because they were cold-blooded. I'd never be adult enough to properly keep a snake safe. So I admired them from afar, for years.
Fast-forward to over a year ago. My partner J and I were at Open Stage, an improv/comedy/circus/burlesque open-mic variety show. I was a vendor, selling the jewelry we'd made and the tiny paintings I'd done, when up on the stage walked Mr. Daryl Sprout and his tubs of traveling snakes.
Daryl did half-comedy, half-education, teaching even as he made people laugh. His aim was to improve snake reputation and encourage people to not kill snakes they met in the wild (or in their backyards). And afterwards, he let people come up and pet his snakes.
I couldn't-- I was a vendor, I couldn't leave my table. Resigned to my chosen fate, I sent my partner off to enjoy the scalies in my stead. Little did I know that J would tell Daryl of my plight and return with a Honduran milksnake to hand to me.
Kingsnakes and milksnakes are in the same family. The feeling of those coils looping through my fingers was the same as when I first held that California king. I was blissed out the rest of the night, but in coming down from my snake high, I commented to my partner that I could never have a snake.
"Why not?" they asked.
I explained. Too hard to care for. I am not adulty enough. I couldn't dare... right?
But J encouraged and supported me, and that was all the permission I needed to seriously consider the prospect. We had the money, space, and time. My youthful "never" was no longer valid--and the realization stunned me.
I read several snake-keeping books within a matter of days, badgering my beloved coworker who had had boas in her past, and over time managed to choose my first snake: a ball python, for their temperament and size, and a male so he wouldn't get too big. I nearly got a banana kingsnake (a yellowed version of a California king), but baby kings are so tiny, so quick, and admittedly pretty nervous--a ball python would be much easier to handle and keep contained for a first-time snake-keeper.
That's how I got Aspen. The rest, as they say, is hissstory.