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Posts Tagged ‘snakes’

Sarcoxie High

April 12th, 2009

Alllrrighty then.  Back to snakes.  Pardon the detour through Arkansas.

So on Wednesday we were back in AR, this time in Fayetteville to stay with my good friend Rob Kenyon and his family so that we could be in Sarcoxie, MO on Thursday.  We really had a great time hanging with them, and Fayetteville was very enjoyable.  We’ll be back.

I was scheduled to perform for the whole school, grades 5-12, in advance of a day off before a big week of academic performance testing starting Monday.

First of all, let me say this about the students in Sarcoxie, Missouri.  We’ve done this show for thousands and thousands of kids of all ages across the country but this was a standout group.  Sharp as a tack (sometimes my humor can be a little hard to keep up with) and they went a couple of steps beyond any group we’ve seen.

One, they went on my site before we arrived and picked out their favorite snakes to actually make posters for.  I have the whole set.  Funny thing is, I get pretty focused once the show begins and while I could see people holding them up, they were a little hard to read at that distance up in the bleachers (my vision’s not what it used to be and I’ve been in a little bit of denial about it) and I didn’t really catch on to exactly what they had done until the end of the show.  I thought the guy cheering about Andy the Anaconda when I mentioned him, who was holding up a poster I couldn’t read, was saying his name was Andy too.   Momentary cluelessness.  Sorry ’bout that.

Even worse, three people picked Evie to make a poster about, which is entirely my bad.  She was a wonderful part of my show, but she passed quietly away a little over a year ago after a prolonged battle with recurring upper respiratory issues.  We miss her.  She was a great story too.  A friend of mine donated her to me after a roommate of his moved out and left her behind.  The roommate was, ahem, a dancer – and Evie worked for her.  I don’t know what her name was back then (I wasn’t there for her early career) but something just seemed appropriate about a large female serpent named Eve.

I shall henceforth endeavor to update my animal roster forthwith.  It doesn’t even mention Capone, and I know he’s a lot of folks’ favorite.

Second, I had more help getting the show loaded in and out than I’m used to, and it was entirely, well, helpful – if you know what I mean.

But best of all, and Julie was the one to notice this first, when we let quite a crowd of them interact with several of our animals at the end of the show, the level of care and gentleness they used in touching, holding and moving them from person to person was exceptional.  Usually we have to explain repeatedly that a snake will let you guide him with an open hand, but will dislike being gripped and controlled by a closed one.  The tongue is for tasting the air, not the fingers.  The back of the head or under the chin can be touched, but only gently and without sudden moves.

These kids already knew.  When Julie and I drove out of the parking lot, she said, “That group was awesome.  They actually gave me new hope for the future.”   I heartily agreed.  I love doing schools, but this one really stood out.

The underlying concept of this version of my show is relating the origins, side effects and cures of a learned fear like ophidiophobia to another one, the fear of taking academic performance tests.  I can seriously relate to that.  It happened to me.  Just like working with a venomous snake that needs to be safely removed and relocated, increases in my heart and respiratory rates and the moisture level in my palms all used to hit me come testing time back when I took them.

Today, the stakes are higher.  A school’s standings and available resources can also be affected by how well all of the students do on testing days.  Only attendance (stay in school!) has as much bearing on access to funding.  Just like seeing a grown man about to mow you down because he’s just seen a snake, it can all be very scary.  But fear is transmutable.

Fear can be, with surprisingly little effort, transformed into focus, clarity and insight.  Just like overcoming the fear of snakes, accurate information and a generous helping of humor can make a closely held phobia melt away like ice on a warm day.   For more on overcoming ophidiophobia, check out my blog entry from July ’08.  On the other side of the fear, power is waiting.

I remember back in my own school days, the test that intimidated me most was the IQ test, because here were a few pieces of paper that were literally going to judge me, relative to all other humans, as to how smart I was.

I later came up with a little trick that overcame both the fear and the focus problems with IQ tests.  Faced with a time deadline and all those questions to answer and problems to solve, I devised a system.  If I thought I knew the answer but wasn’t quite sure, I marked my best guess and put a check mark in the margin beside it.

If I didn’t have a clue as to the right answer, I took a wild guess and put a little circle (like a zero) in the margin next to it.  I made no extra marks next to answers I was sure of.  Then, when I finished the test and had minutes to spare, I was able to easily revisit the check marks first, to see if my mind, now freshly looking at problems I had waffled on before and no longer bogged down by the remainder of the test, could come up with new insight into the answers.  It often did.

Then, if I had the time after double checking the checks, I took another look at all the circles – problems I had been clueless about earlier.  Frequently even these became easier to work now that the entire test was behind me.  Sounds weird to say it, but this trick actually raised my IQ.

Come to think of it, if everyone in a school were to use the same system, the teachers grading the tests would be able to tell exactly how well it was working for each student.   Pretty cool.

So now we’re feeling completely involved in the efforts of this excellent bunch of students in the coming week.  Go Bears!  We’re rooting for you in Texas.

Take it easy on the Easter candy today so you get a good night’s sleep, but recent research says that gnawing the head off of that chocolate bunny tomorrow morning (after a good breakfast) will actually raise your scores.  You have a great school – one to be proud of.  Now – get in there and prove it to the rest of The Show Me State.sarcoxie


April 3rd, 2008

I’ve just been notified that I’ll be returning to Mobile, AL for The Gulf Coast Exploreum. I’m excited about this on three fronts. First, Mobile is very cool. Coastal frontage, estuaries, beaches, historic neighborhoods, great food and new friends I’ve made.

Speaking of the food, a buddy in Houston told me I had to try the West Indies Salad at a restaurant there – and it was excellent. Turns out it’s the ultimate local dish, created in Mobile in 1947 by Bill Bailey (won’t you come home) but the chef wouldn’t divulge a thing that was in it. Several tries later, and I’ve nailed it. Lump crab, diced onion, marinaded 3 days in a vinaigrette – you get the idea. Served on crackers – yum. But I digress…

Second, last year was my first appearance at this extremely cool science museum – and we packed the house. I’m delighted to be invited back the very next season. Maybe it’ll become an annual event!

Third, it’ll be the triumphant return of Capone. I adopted him on my way out of Mobile last year, so while his adorable mug has been on TV from Baton Rouge to Houston to Tyler since then, Mobile audiences have yet to meet him.

While I was there, a wonderful lady named Pam called the museum and asked for the snake man. I called her back and learned that her husband had died in a tragic accident a few weeks earlier. Capone had been his baby. When she asked if I would consider adopting him, I told her I would be honored. And it has been amazing having him in the family.

He’s full of personality and the cameras love him. Even people who really hate snakes always seem to adore Capone. Many a place he has visited has fervently requested that I leave him behind. He is also the only reptile I have ever seen who can do an actual trick. Performing it is a delicate balance between man and beast, but believe me – it’s mostly him.Capone

Anyway, I’ll be in Mobile from July 18-20, so if you’re anywhere close (Gulf Shores, Pensacola, Biloxi, Pascagoula) be sure you don’t miss the show!

Check out Exploreum’s Blog entry about it:

Tyler Texas

December 2nd, 2007

Thursday November 29th through Saturday December 1st were devoted to Discovery Science Place in Tyler. I was remarkably unfamiliar with the town, having lived so close to it most of my life, but you do have to get well off of I-20 to get there, so in countless trips past it going East, I apparently never saw much more than the exit sign. Downtown was mostly built quite a while ago, and it is one of those buildings that Discovery Science Place calls home.

As science museums I’ve performed for go, this one is small and like most of them, on a tight budget – but the staff are first rate and the enthusiasm we generated in Tyler was exceptional. Every show was sold out. Kudos to Marketing Director Val Williamson, who had only been there a month at the time, but did a wonderful job. The audiences were delightfully responsive and I’ve already been told to plan on next year. It may even become an annual event like the one in Dallas.

I think that science and nature museums are some of our cities’ most worthy causes. The mind is like a muscle, and it needs exercise and creative play. If you aren’t a member of your local museum, consider becoming one. You get discounts and other perks, but you are also directly contributing to science and nature education in your own community. So much can be learned that is difficult or impossible to get in schools, where the focus has become preparing students to do well on state tests.

I also ran into an old friend from high school, whom I had not seen since the early eighties. Joe Terrell is now a popular news anchor for KLTV, the dominant affiliate in town. It was great to see that he was doing well, and has a delightful family to boot. Special kudos to the station for providing excellent coverage of the event, including a segment with morning anchor Molly Reuter and meteorologist Grant Dade that was even better than usual. Their cameraman was calling it the best segment ever. A link to their site’s video clip of it will be on the experience page of my site. Worth a look.

My hotel had cable, so there was no NFL Network on which to see the Cowboys-Packers game Thursday night (how ’bout them Cowboys!) but across the street was a sports bar called Daniel Boone’s, actually owned and operated by a guy named Daniel Boone. Nice meal and a great game. Turns out NFL Network streamed it (which they did not announce in advance) so I could have seen it on the laptop, but streaming video can’t yet do justice to fast-action sports.

Overall, my experience in Tyler was hectic but wonderful. I’m looking forward to my return, and to doing whatever I can to help this small but vibrant science museum become the hugely popular family destination it richly deserves to be.