This column appears in the Sunday, June 16 newspaper on Page A4.
”What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved.”
- an except from Roger Angell’s “Agincourt and After”
Few of us on earth will ever develop a passion for anything the way Dave Sagan did with snakes.
You couldn’t help but admire him for that. It is such a joy to know someone so richly invested, so acutely knowledgable about something. Anything.
For example: I used to love listening to the old radio show “Car Talk.” That’s a funny thing to say, as someone who doesn’t care or know a thing about cars, but it’s true. I could’ve listened Click and Clack riff and laugh and talk shop for hours. Their love for cars was infectious.
Dave Sagan was that way. Maybe you didn’t like snakes. Maybe you even hated them. But for a few minutes, he could make you love them ... or, at least, you’d love listening to him talk about them. That was close enough.
Sagan passed away on June 8 at the age of 52. He was a longtime instructor for Hocking College’s School of Natural Resources and spent years at site manager for Hocking Woods Nature Center.
My introduction to Sagan came shortly after moving to Athens in 2013. I had a brief stint as a crime reporter back then, and a few weeks in I received a tip about a python missing from a trailer park. Its owner told law enforcement they could no longer afford to feed the 4-foot-6-inch python and initially tried to run it over with a lawn mower.
That plan was apparently unsuccessful and the python got away. The scared owner called the sheriff’s office, which knew to get in contact with “the snake guy.”
Sagan brought some of his Hocking College students to the trailer park in search of the python.
“It’s an African snake,” Sagan expertly told The Messenger, “so all the lush vegetation is going to compound the issue.”
Nearby residents were understandably worried about a python on the loose in their neighborhood, but Sagan assured everyone it was not a danger to the public. However, he did worry about it being scared and disoriented, so he kept up the search.
On the third day, Sagan peeked under the owner’s trailer and spotted a python’s nose. As it turned out, the animal was hiding underneath the trailer the whole time. Sagan took the snake back to Hocking College’s nature center.
That was my first time reporting on snakes, but not nearly the last. Every six months or so I’d bump into Sagan at a community event. After all, he was known as “the snake guy” for a reason. Sagan took snakes to Safety Town. He took them to libraries, to schools, even to the county fairgrounds.
In 2016, a sister publication to The Messenger hosted a big health fair in McArthur. We invited all sorts of public health agencies as well as some fun special guests, including Sagan. He loved showing off the snakes to children in an approachable, educational way. Some people can’t get their kids to brush their teeth or eat a vegetable. Sagan, meanwhile, had kids going from complete horror to giggling and petting snakes in a few short minutes. Passionate people are like that.
His impact on Southeast Ohio goes far beyond snakes — the animals were, I might suggest, merely an example for the joys of learning, of the need to overcome one’s fears, of the necessity for humans to respect and love the natural world.
What a world this would be if we all followed that example.