I’m not a fan of spiders. I know they have their place in the universe but there is something about them that gives me the creeps. It’s not that I was taught to hate them. My mother always told me that if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. So, in the main, I did, leave them alone, that is.
When I was a pre-teen, I had a pet spider. It lived behind my bedhead, just behind the built-in light. I had a shelf in my bedhead and kept my favorite books on it. I’d often read late into the night. Before I went to sleep, I’d always check on the spider. It was a daddy-long-legs and had made a lovely little web in the corner. I’d pop my head over to reassure myself it hadn’t moved. I knew daddy-long-legs could be highly poisonous but weren’t harmful if you left them alone. I made a pact with that spider. You leave me alone and I’ll let you live. It didn’t move from that spot for a very long time but it was still alive. I used to blow on it to see if it would react and it did. I was disappointed the day it disappeared. It didn’t come to get me. It had just gone, or maybe it had escaped. Maybe it was more scared of me than I was scared of it. Maybe it had spent all that time not moving from its spot because it knew I was there and might squish it if it moved. I missed my silent friend.
A couple of years later we were sitting watching television when a huge huntsman started crawling up the wall. Why do those big hairy spiders always climb up the wall in plain sight? You’d think they could figure it out that if they can see us, we can see them, especially when they are that big. Sadly, for that huntsman, my mother thought it was dangerous. For all her talk about leaving them alone, she sprayed it until it hit the floor with a thud. It made a very loud thud. It also took a hell of a lot of spray to penetrate those hairs. What was really frightening was that, even after it had hit the floor and curled its legs amid the white pesticide froth, the damn thing got up and climbed the wall again. Of course, it kept slipping but it also kept trying. We thought it was never going to die, and those big spiders are hard to squash.
My mother thought she should get some newspaper and take it outside. No, it wasn’t to save it. That was really too late an option. She just didn’t want to watch it die, but as she came toward it with the paper, it reared up its front legs as if to attack. If you have ever seen the movie Arachnaphobia, I bet the people who wrote the script saw a spider rear like that some time. Scary. Then it dropped off the wall for the last time, and died. My mother explained her different attitude to the big spider by saying that they can spit poison in your eyes from twelve feet away and so you should never look at one too long. Give a spider magic powers like that and it will always be somewhat threatening.
As I grew older, I discovered more about the dangers of spiders. Redbacks could kill you in a matter of minutes, so they said, but only in the mating season when the female gets her red stripe. She makes babies with the tiny male and then eats him for dessert. Redbacks could hide out anywhere, even under your chair, so never put your hand under your chair until you check it first.
Funnel webs dug little holes in the lawn. They had fat bodies like black widow spiders and hid behind their little traps until an unsuspecting foot came running across the grass. Then they would pop out to bite you. Lots of kids ended up in hospital, or so they said on television. I never saw one, but I was always checking the grass. I never got bitten by a spider on the grass, but those pesky ants seemed to like taking a snack on me…
In high school, I wrote an essay on spiders for my biology class. Did you know that the shells of flies you find lying on your windowsills are the remnants of spider milkshakes? Spiders hunt flies and inject them with an enzyme that completely melts their insides, then they poke a proboscis into the outer shell of the fly and suck it dry.
After I met my future husband, he took me for a drive in the countryside one day. We detoured down a secluded lane between swathes of farmland. He pulled the car into a quiet spot surrounded by huge shrubs – a real lover’s haven. We spread a picnic blanket on the ground and had ourselves something to eat, then laid back on the rug to make love. He had his eyes shut to kiss me when my skyward glance took in the horror of what we’d got ourselves into. Every shrub around us was totally covered in spiders and their webs. I can tell you that the picnic rug, and us, were not in that spot within seconds after that.
After we were married, a lot of stories aired on the news about white-tailed spiders. People were in hospital because they’d been bitten and their flesh had become necrotic. Some people had to have arms or legs amputated. It was horrible. I went to bed most nights worrying about spiders coming to get me in my sleep. I think they heard me. I got up to go to the toilet one night and as I laid back down in bed I felt two sharp jabs in my back, between my shoulders. I found the culprit soon after. It looked like a white tailed spider. Since my back only got a bit swollen and red, but nothing else, I presume that either that fellow did not bite me as hard as I thought, or it was only a cousin of the white-tailed spider. It died in a smear on my bed.
You’d think I’d developed a hatred of spiders from these tales, but I don’t hate them. I still appreciate their value in the world. I’m just a survivor. So maybe that’s why I seem to have developed a sixth sense where spiders are concerned. These days, I know as soon as a spider has entered a room I’m in, even when I’m asleep. I can’t keep count of how many times I’ve woken up from sleep to discover a spider on the wall nearby. Where do they come from? Why do they come to my room when I’m asleep? Have they been sent to spy on me? Are they planning to attack me when I’m down? As soon as I turn the light on, they freeze, as if they have been caught doing something they shouldn’t. I always think, I’ve been asleep for hours. You could have walked across my face and I wouldn’t have noticed. Then we stare at each other, and they go away. I’m always surprised that they give up so easily.
When they come into a room where I’m already awake, I am also surprised that they aren’t smart enough to sneak around without getting caught. Then I figured out that they knew something had changed in my approach. These days, I’m less likely to squish or spray them. I’m more likely to watch them and see what happens, or catch them and take them outside. My grand-daughters do not appreciate these tactics, having been brought up by their spider-phobic mother, but at the age I am now, having experienced far more of the world’s different shades of grey, I think that even spiders deserve a chance to prove themselves. I’m not always so merciful. If they don’t leave when they should and I can’t catch them, they may still die. If I have to kill one, these days, I give it a blessing and say ‘better luck next life.’ I believe in reincarnation. Only the body dies.
What I have noticed, though, is that you can talk to spiders. If you tell them that if they don’t leave, you’ll have to kill them, they do seem to get the message. I talked to one large black spider crossing my bedroom ceiling one night. I watched it for ages slowly making its way across the white expanse but I was too tired to do anything about it. It crossed my mind that it might drop on me, but I was also fascinated that in the vast expanse of my bedroom ceiling it chose to cross the room above my bed.
It moved in stops and starts, taking only small sections at a time. I knew it was watching me just as much as I was watching it. Deep inside, I kind of felt it might be a test to see how far I’d come. Would I kill a totally innocent spider just going about it’s night, that had not harmed me and may not harm me, just because it had the potential to give me a nasty bite?
It was a big spider. It could have crossed the ceiling in no time at all. It took an hour, during which I nodded off a few times, only to open my eyes again to see it still there. I was relieved when it finally made it to the window. I told it that it had better be gone by morning or I would have to do something about it. At that point, it sprinted right along the wall above the windows, then ran down the wall and disappeared behind a chest of drawers. I sighed and went to sleep. When I woke up next morning I looked for it and was relieved to see it gone. I looked for it in the next few days but it didn’t come back. It seemed to have got my message.
There are all sorts of dangers in life. We live in a universe that is a volatile place and bad things can and do happen. It’s good to be ready and prepared to deal with those matters when they crop up, but it’s not good to get too paranoid about it. It’s also good to not kick yourself for being hypocritical if the rules of the game keep changing. We are human, after all.
A big garden orb spider has built itself a pretty web right over the swimming pool gate. I can see why it likes it there with the sunshine warming up its web. It already had a nice larder full of spider corpses by the time we made it outside to check the pool for the first swim of the season. My grand-daughters did not want to go anywhere near the gate, so I detached half of its web and moved it to one side. I didn’t kill the spider, and they were miffed that it was still there, but they went through and had a lovely time. Later, after we were all back inside, they came to tell me that the pesky spider had gone and reattached the web right across the area above the gate, just where it had been before. I had to give a nod to that spider. It waited respectfully until we had gone.