Nothing to Fear But


Yes, there are snakes in Willowdale.

You might not like it, but they were here first.

You can go hiking or running on Willowdale State Forest’s miles of lovely trails for hours, even years, and never see a snake.

Or you might.

Depending on how you like snakes, you may or may not want to avoid Willowdale.

My long-time personal trainer, Jen Tougas of Personal Best Studio in Ipswich, is conflicted.

She’s a world-class runner — she’s done the Boston Marathon yawning, that’s how good she is — and she loves Willowdale.

But she hates snakes.

No, that’s not strong enough language. Jen is terrified of snakes. Paralyzed by the sight of one. This otherwise strong, muscular, marvelously athletic health professional — in something like the 99.99th percentile for physical fitness — sees a snake and goes all wiggly-wobbly in the legs. Also, she screams. And tries not to faint.

The solution, of course, is to be accompanied by a big strong man. I know it’s not politically correct to talk about a woman needing a big strong man, but in this case, it’s exactly true. So Jen has linked up with Rob Martin, the owner of Ipswich Ale Brewery and the Brewer’s Table restaurant. Rob Martin is also a long-time running champion — as I understand it, he runs marathons yawning while fighting pneumonia, in his bare feet, carrying a huge cooler of beer on his back. If ever there was someone who could keep a maiden safe from snakes in Willowdale, it’s Rob Martin.

So last week, Jen headed out onto the trails of Willowdale with her protector, Rob Martin. Unfortunately, sure enough, Jen saw a snake. She screamed bloody murder, of course, which scared the daylights out of the snake. It vanished. But Jen was already traumatized. So, in order to keep Jen from turning back and ruining a perfectly good day of running, Rob Martin took the necessary action. He agreed to go first the rest of the way.

This, however, from Jen’s perspective, was not satisfactory. Another deadly serpent could leap from the underbrush and ravage her savagely at any moment. So Rob Martin really had no choice but to take extraordinary measures.

Now picture this. A big strong man is running down the trails of Willowdale flapping his arms like a pterodactyl, stomping his feet as heavily as possible, and shouting, “Clear out, snakes! Get away! We’re coming through! Your days are numbered! We’ll crush you!” And other equally scary words. And there’s a wobbly-legged woman tiptoeing behind him, crying for him to slow down. Not a pretty picture.

They survived, however. I know this because I saw Jen in her studio the next day. She was still in the process of recovering. But she had collected her wits enough to see the bigger picture. Running in Willowdale is not really about running, at least not for Jen Tougas. It’s not about getting in touch with nature. It’s not about physical fitness.

It’s about love.

Rob Martin flapped his arms for her.

“That man really loves me,” Jen said, her voice still shaky a day after the incident.

I’ll say. Would I flap my arms for the woman I love? In private, maybe, but not out in public, in front of God and everybody.

But Rob Martin has limited options. He probably isn’t going to switch girlfriends. And getting Jen into therapy for her snake phobia will be expensive.

So what’s left? Nothing but to flap.

So, a word to the wise: If you visit Willowdale, and you see a big, buff fellow flapping his arms, don’t be alarmed. Don’t call the cops and request a mental-health evaluation. Because it’s not what it appears. It’s not insanity. It’s something simpler. Something sweeter.

It’s love.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road and avoids physical exertion except in the confines of the Personal Best fitness studio. Follow him at a leisurely pace from the safety of your own computer by clicking “Follow.”



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