What to do when you see a snake: an interview with Birmingham yoga naturalist Dana Coker Gale

Dana Coker Gale and I talked about what to do when you see a snake.
Dana (r) holding a snake with her friend Virginia (l). Photo by Dana Coker Gale

Dana Coker Gale is crazy multifaceted—and, she loves snakes. Yoga teacher, fisherwoman, costume-wearer, model, lover of reptiles and amphibians, and mama are just a few of her many talents.

Lately, she’s been adding “amateur naturalist” to the list, so I reached out to talk to her about what to do when you see a snake.

We talked about fishing, yoga, and her family’s upcoming year in Ecuador, too.

How’d you get into fishing?

Dana Coker Gale with a bass at Smith Lake. We talked about what to do when you see a snake.
With a bass at Smith Lake. Photo from Dana Coker Gale

One of my cousins fished a lot. When I was a kid I’d beg my dad to take me fishing every Sunday. We’d dig worms first, then sit on the bank of my grandfather’s pond for hours. I loved it.

A couple of years ago my husband took me to the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, to an Orvis Fly Fishing School. Over the weekend, we learned from scratch, and went from “viewer knowledge” to catching our first fish.

Currently, that’s my favorite way to fish by far. It really doesn’t require that much—if you have a few things, you can go fly fishing anywhere there’s water.

Dana with a bullfrog. We talked about what to do when you see a snake.
Dana with a big ‘ole bullfrog. Photo from Dana Coker Gale

What are your favorite local places to fish?

A longear sunfish from the Cahaba River. Dana Coker Gale and I talked about what to do when you see a snake.
A longear sunfish from the Cahaba River. Photo from Dana Coker Gale

Mostly the Little Cahaba River and the Cahaba (because I live on it). I keep my rod and all my equipment in the back of the car because I never know when I’ll be able to fish.

Tell me a little bit about yoga

Doesn't seem like yoga and snakes have much to do with each other, but in Dana Coker Gale's world, they do.
Yoga at Sloss Furnaces National Landmark. Photo by Susi Baxter-Seitz

Going through yoga teacher training at Life Power Yoga at Vestavia Hills is the best thing I ever did for myself as an adult.

It completely changed my perspective from entitlement to gratitude—this has been the biggest mental shift of my entire life.

During the hours when I’m teaching, I feel the most focused and connected of the entire week. I cannot be distracted and teach a good class.

What about your love affair with Alabama wildlife?

Dana Coker Gale's long had a love affair with Alabama Wildlife.
With a snapping turtle turtle. Photo from Dana Coker Gale

It started with my Dad. He wasn’t scared of anything. I’d catch lizards–Mom would squeal and Dad would congratulate me.

Mom’s an animal lover, but she’s frightened of reptiles—especially snakes. I got a kick out of scaring her.

Skinks are a type of smooth-scaled lizard that can get quite large.

When I was 7 or 8, I turned over something near our barn and found a female skink with a big orange head and a grayish-tan body. It was so big I had to pick it up with two hands.

Mom almost wet her pants. Dad pulled up in the driveway from work and was excited to see it.

I loved getting a reaction. Also, I’d catch crickets and feed spiders . . . anything I could do to interact with wildlife made me happy.

You’ve posted a few videos on Instagram about snakes. So many people are afraid of snakes—what’s your take on them?

Dana Coker Gale with snake.
Dana with snake at Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by @susi_baxterseitz

I love every single one of them. It breaks my heart when I see people talk about killing them because they’re frightened of them.

It goes back to the yoga principle of “do no harm.” One of the things I attempt to do is educate.

I’m a budding naturalist who has an affinity for no-legged creatures.

What about venomous snakes?

See what a rattlesnake looks like.
Rattlesnake. Note the shape of its head. Photo from The Rattlesnake Conservancy‘s Facebook page

It’s important to note the difference between venomous and poisonous. We do have venomous snakes in Alabama. They’ll inject venom. Poisonous is more like dart frogs that have poison on their skin if someone licks them.

If you see a venomous snake, first, be still and see if you can easily get way. Back up if you need to. Walk around the snake if you can.

But avoid encroaching on its personal space or freaking out. Don’t dance around or scream ’cause it might make the snake freak out, too.

Figure out an escape route for yourself and get away. If it’s far away, it’s not coming toward you. It doesn’t want anything to do with you.

Note from Bham Now: of course, learn your Alabama venomous snakes and keep your distance. And, if you or someone you love is bitten by a venomous snake, act fast. Here’s what to do.

What to do if you are bitten by a venomous snake.
From the Rattlesnake Conservancy

What do people need to pay attention to when it comes to snakes?

Generally speaking, in my experiences on rivers and creeks, I won’t see a snake until it’s escaping me.

All they want to do is get away. You’re way too big to eat, so you might eat them. Having one touch you is rare, from my experience.

If go into a river and you don’t want to hang out with snakes, make a lot of noise, splash sticks in the water and they’ll clear out.

I was in the river with a friend a few weeks ago in North Alabama and as we came back from fishing, we saw a snake. Turned out it was a large water moccasin.

As soon as it heard or felt my steps, the snake slithered away.

Snake handling: good for beer, not for people

Snake Handler from Good People Brewing Company. Seems topical.
Snake Handler from Good People. Photo from Good People Brewing Company’s Facebook page

Usually when people get bitten it’s because they’re handling a snake they shouldn’t handle, or they get too close and step on it and the snake reacts.

I’ve often heard that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than die from a venomous snakebite.

Sometimes you’ll see a snake basking on a rock or on a log if you’re quiet. Just leave it alone.

It still frightens me, though. My heartbeat speeds up and there’s a moment of complete panic. I breathe and remember 99 times out of 100 it’s gonna be okay. It’s a natural human response.

My cousin sent me something recently that said “How do snakes move since they don’t have any legs? On the power of human fear.”

What are your favorite snakes?

My favorite is definitely the gray rat snake. It’s so amiable. They don’t snap at you or bite. It’s common and easy to identify, and they get so big—6-7 feet long. They’re fascinating.

Tell me about your upcoming big adventure . . .

Our whole family is moving to South America for a year on Monday, July 1.

Some of our goals are to learn Spanish, to understand how vastly different other cultures experience life by immersing ourselves in a different culture, to get out of our typical sense of entitlement, to create a little more gratitude, to be uncomfortable and learn how to be comfortable with that.

We’re also planning to visit Galapagos at least once, which will be awesome considering that they have some amazing reptiles there.

If you want to tag along on the Gale family’s big adventure, or if you just want to check out her awesome Alabama wildlife pics and videos, follow her on Instagram at @fishinyogini.

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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