Light slipped through the darkness, and touched the edges of things. I was sitting on my mom’s back patio, talking with A. on the phone, as the night began to swarm. My relative stillness and the soft hum of my voice coaxed creatures with a multitude of appendages out of hiding. Or maybe it had more to do with their indifference. Crickets skittered over the cooling concrete,and sauntered up the stuccoed wall, toward the light. Dangled from the corner of the chair opposite me, a spider tended its web, retrieving the remains of a tasty morsel.
Without prompting, A. started to talk about the black widow he had relocated earlier that day, which reminded me about the three brown recluse spiders that had tumbled out of an aloe plant we removed at the condo. The more we talked about spiders, the more aware I became that Mom’s patio had a healthy population of them. Restless and contemplating all of the arachnids my chair was harboring, I got up and started pacing. This was when a fat orb of a body caught my gaze. Five feet away, there was another.
I grabbed a flashlight, and directed all of its illuminating power at one of the thick round spheres. Red flashed on its belly. Examining the other with the same scrutinizing gaze was mere formality. I was already sure it was the same. And it was.
The first encounter I can remember with a black widow (the encounter I carry with me) happened during a game of hide and seek. I was with my very best friend, V. We dressed alike. I tried to style my hair like hers. Every day we spent hours playing together and being foolish. One day we were playing hide and seek with some other kids from the apartment complex. We knew we were going to win, because we had the most awesome hiding place.
It was an old podium someone had left, tucked away in a corner between one of the cottages and a fence. There was just enough space in the base of the podium for two small girls. I squeezed into the very back, and V. pressed in after me. There we sat in silence, breathing heavily from our running and trying not to laugh. Time stretched out. We couldn’t hear footsteps or threats or shouting. Bored, I started to look around, and there, not two inches from my face was a big black body with a red hourglass shining at me.
Any other time an arachnid or arthropod had invaded our domain, I remembered my mother yelling for me to get on the couch while she wielded one of her wooden clogs with an equal amount of terror and determination. These were the things to fear.
“I have to get out,” I told V.
“Shh. They’ll hear.”
“We have to get out now.” I’m not sure why I didn’t just say there’s a big black widow in my face. I pushed her back out into the open and scrambled past her. As little girls do when they’re about to lose a game because of something you did, she looked at me with disappointment. Maybe even something like disgust. I ran home and stopped playing.
With an eradication policy strictly in my background, I was now here. Sitting on my mom’s back patio in close proximity to two arachnid heavy hitters. I told her about her tenants the next day. She had no idea they were there.
What do you want to do about them?, she texted.
Write a blog, I replied.
Here I am, and there they are.
My attitude about these things has changed. Rather than jumping up on the couch and shrieking in fear, or smashing it straight into a webby afterlife, if the spider not a real threat, I either leave it alone, or I relocate it, and the myriad of other bugs wandering into my domain. Aside from my aversion to pain and suffering, and my general inability to kill things, I have enough life and experience under my proverbial belt to understand humans are part of a larger and more complicated world.
My perception is that human beings live in fear of predators, and creepy crawlies, and anything out of our control; as if we, as a species, have intense PTSD of the ancient past (fraught with real danger) out of which we evolved. We constantly try to order our world, pave it over, carve it into a strictly geometric space navigable by human reason. But our brave new world has other dangers; some of which we ourselves have created.
Eliminating all the dangerous predators in the world is not an answer. Just consider the story of Yellowstone National Park and the reintroduction of wolves.
Just because we can’t immediately see the purpose of something, doesn’t mean it is without purpose. Spiders are part of our world, and a world without them may be something we cannot recognize. There is evidence supporting the role of insects in general, and spiders in particular, as early ecosystem developers. (Check out this excellent post on the subject.) Aside from possibly laying the nutrient groundwork for habitat transformation and development, spiders keep our homes, gardens and orchards clear of other, more problematic pests.
They may not be welcome company, and they may even be terrifying at times, but they are part of our world, just as much as we are part of theirs.