The slowest venom
It was the day after Valentine’s day in 2013, and I was on my honeymoon after getting married to one of the most extraordinary humans I’ve ever met. We were in a rainforest in Borneo, splashing for an extra-romantic, deep-jungle luxury adventure. What, with the aforementioned Valentine’s day, and you know, the honeymoon thing.
We had been on night safaris; we’d met all sorts of incredible creatures and spent at least 30% of our brain power, at all times, trying to avoid leeches. Those bloodsucking little bastards. It turns out leach socks are a thing. Who knew? Google it.
In any case, I had a camera with me, and I was excited to capture the wildlife. Coming up for dinner, I saw something slithering in the trees. Was that… Is that… I took the photo. I took another. And another. And one more. I probably took dozens, but I could only find four now. One I kept, even though it was out of focus — rare, for me, but there was a story.
You see, I unwittingly had taken a very gorgeous macro photo of a juvenile spitting cobra. The ‘spitting’ part, I was told, is because you didn’t even have to touch the thing to get venom-ed. They could simply spit a mixture of acid (to get through the skin) and venom, to turn your pretty decent day in the rainforest into your last day on earth. Or so, as we shall get to, I was told.
I ran into the tour guide, and I excitedly showed him my photos.
“Look at this thing!,” I’d show him the back of. Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera (my camera) with a Canon 24–105 f/4 L IS USM lens on it. My camera. My wife’s lens. I know these things for a fact, because they are in the EXIF data of the photo. It will also tell you that the picture was taken at 6:50AM, but that seems unlikely the day after valentine’s day, so maybe I never adjusted the clock on the camera, and maybe it was 6:50AM in London, or San Francisco, or, god knows where. What I’m saying is that facts are not really doing it for me at this exact goddamn minute, okay?
“How close were you,” he said.
I held up my hands, indicating less than a full wing span. He looks at the back of my camera again, and I swear he goes pale.
“That is a juvenile spitting pit cobra, you need to wash your hands right away,” I remember him saying. “And be careful when you clean that lens.”
I took his word for it. I’m pretty sure we sent in the lens for servicing before we sold it, and I have visions of including a note ‘Careful when cleaning this lens, may contain cobra venom.”
It’s one of my favorite stories from my honeymoon. A brush with death, a trifle with tragedy, which resulted in such, such a lovely photo.
Long story short, a friend of mine is recovering from chemo therapy, and she sent me a picture of a lizard the cats had brought in, but who was safe to be rescued. She told me that her cats bring home snakes from time to time, and I remembered my favorite snake story.
I sent her the photo.
I told her about the venomous snake.
And then I thought ‘hey, Google Lens is really good now, I can probably send her a link to the exact type of spitting pit cobra this is.”
And so I dutifully plug the picture into Google, and I get a result. And I discover that, while deeply gorgeous, this snake is, in fact, utterly harmless. Feel free to use the photos above to confirm this for yourself. He’s gorgeous. He’s slithery. He’s a danger-noodle. And he’s how I discovered, a solid decade-and-a-bit after I was being made fun of, that I was being made fun of.
The guy was a tour guide. He gave us a lengthy briefing on how some of the animals are dangerous, and that they have antivenom and shit with them on the tour vehicles. This was a luxury resort. Presumably someone, at some point, somewhere, trained the guy.
And that’s how I discovered, ten years after my honeymoon, that someone made fun of me on my honeymoon. It isn't even really that bad an example of bullying — except this particular honeymooner has been telling that story for a decade, probably wrote it up in a couple of books, and is now feeling profoundly worthless as a result.
All because I got really excited about capturing a beautiful photo of a snake beautiful snake.
And I’m left to wonder — this one took me more than a decade to find. How many other times do I discover I’ve been made fun of, many, many years later, poisoning the well of some of my most favorite stories.
I’m sorry little snake, it’s not your fault. As a snake, you get to be as snaky as you want. I just wish the humans were a little more human.