Lessons From Spiders 4: Of Beauty and the Beast

Lessons From Spiders 4: Of Beauty and the Beast

My relationship with spiders changed somewhat when I encountered a pink wonder on my potted larkspur.

It was summer and the sun was pouring instead of the rain for once so I basked in back deck splendour, turning the umbrella just so, propping a cushion perfectly behind me. My hand trailed onto the plant nearest me-a larkspur who refused to flower because I had the audacity to pot it instead of planting it in the ground. I noticed one of its lime green leaves was curled under and I touched it absentmindedly, so absentmindedly in fact that I didn’t realize in the process I was touching a spider.

I realized when it ducked for cover, scrambling under the shelter of the leaf and over my finger in the process. At the same time I realized the leaf was curled over and deliberately fastened with webs onto itself, creating a hiding place for the spider I had startled. I snapped my hand back instinctively, the familiar arachnophobia prickling my neck and running in cold waves up my spine.

Then I took a look under the leaf.

I saw pure white legs.

Crawling out of my hiding spot before the spider crawled from hers, I blew slightly on the leaf and she scrambled to the top.

She was beautiful. Strikingly, breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I gasped.

She was a perfect white orb, crab-like legs delicately clinging to the leaf like high heels on a carpet. And along her sides were pink markings like the strokes from an artist’s paintbrush. In the leaf that she had folded and woven she had laid her eggs and was guarding them vigilantly against large predators such as me. She made me want to know what her name was, she prompted me to search. Misumena vatia. Go ahead…search…I will wait.

Welcome back.

I watched Miss Umena Vatia for days. I introduced her to friends who visited, incredulous friends, by the way, as they knew my fear of spiders. But Umena and I had made a deal. I wouldn’t disturb her if she didn’t disturb me. If she stayed in her home and didn’t venture into mine, I would ignore her…admire her…maybe even protect her. But if she tried to creep into my abode, I couldn’t predict how I would react.

Researching a creature I had hitherto not known existed excites me. The vastness of Earth and its flora and fauna humble me. Miss Umena prompted me to remember childhood meanderings with my older brother and younger sister, discovering ponds of tadpoles and cities of ants, watching spiders-always from a distance–build nets and lure prey. Miss Umena made me feel like a child again, with a child’s respect for what she doesn’t yet know or understand, before not knowing or not understanding become causes for fear.

This may be why, weeks later, I was almost okay with the wolf spider in the turtle garden statuary. Almost.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will be familiar with my first encounter with a wolf spider. For those of you who may have missed that story, you can read it here:  Lessons From Spiders 2  But I will summarize: evening twilight, upstairs hallway, so big I thought it was a rodent.

This particular day began with, “Ugh.”

“What’s wrong?” asked my husband.

“Ennui,” I replied.

“No French, no Victorian English,” he responded. “Bored or annoyed?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Can you fix it without my help?”  he asked, blinking at me over his laptop.

“I’m just missing my garden back East,” was my sighed reply.

“Seriously?  The same garden that baked in the sun until the ground was as hard as concrete?  The same garden you had to weed every week and made your hands dry and your neck sunburned?”

“Hmm…weeds or wildflowers? Sunburn or vitamin D? Dry hands or…or…manicure?”

“Dry hands.”

Sigh. 

“Okay, how about this?” He smiled at me. “You’ve made the back porch beautiful. What about the walk-out downstairs? Why don’t you tidy it up and get it ready for some potted plants and a little bistro set? You’ve already got your turtle statue out there that you brought from Ontario. He’s looking lonely. Make a garden of sorts for him.”

“Yeah?” I asked, suddenly feeling inspired.

“Heck, yeah,” he replied, suddenly realizing he was going to get some peace.

So I skipped away, broom in hand, and went about the task of sweeping a concrete slab and cedar privacy wall and plastic siding of dust and debris and cobwebs. At the same time my brain started to sweep itself of the dust and debris and cobwebs that had been settling into my neural circuits and causing my listlessness. My painted terra cotta turtle seemed to smile at me so I gave him a spray with the hose then turned him upside down to clean out his hollowed underside.

And there was the wolf spider. Crouching along the inside lip of the hollowed shell, twitching.

A cold sweat travelled down my spine. My breath caught in my throat and my lazy lungs refused to inhale or exhale. Miss Umena Vatia was one thing. This gargantuan beast was quite another.

I forced myself to relax as waves of panic rippled through me. I told myself the spider didn’t want to hurt me. I responded to myself that I wasn’t afraid of it hurting me. I asked myself what the hell I was afraid of then. I told myself I had no bloody idea so just shut up until I formulate a plan.

My plan centred around my husband. I backed up slowly, stepped into the house and closed and locked the door.

“Babe?” I called up the stairs weakly.

“Uh huh?”

“Um, I really was going to leave you alone. I thought I might be able to handle this but….well….it’s not going so well.”

“Spider?”

He knows me so well.

“Yeah. Wolf.”

He came downstairs with his flip flops in hand. “What’s the plan?”

“Well, I don’t want to kill him. After all, he is outside. And that’s his home. But I can’t work with him near me. And I can’t move him. Got any ideas?”

We went outside together and I pointed out the beast in the turtle’s belly.

“You sure you don’t want me to just kill him?”

“It wouldn’t be fair, would it?” I asked.

He picked up the broom, upended it, and flicked the beast into the grass, a good 10 feet from us.

“See him?”

“Yes.”

“Comfortable with the proximity?”

“Yeah, I think so. Thanks.”

He kissed my cheek, went back in the house and said, “You sure?”

I eyed the beast in the grass. He wasn’t making a move.

“Yeah. Really. Thanks Babe.”

As he went back upstairs I started to sweep again and thought about how good it was to have such a large spider hanging around. After all the reading I had done when I discovered the beauty Miss Umena on the larkspur, all the education I had received, I just had to admit spiders were beneficial creatures. Well, gee, just imagine how many pests he was keeping from creeping into my house. With him skulking around, hunting just outside my back door, day or night, creeping…crawling…on his hairy brown legs…just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on unsuspecting prey…his large body casting a shadow in the moonlight…menacing…if I leave the door open by accident…oh…my…heavens…

I strode the ten feet and promptly stepped on him, squishing him beyond recognition under the bottom of my rubber boot.  

And as guilt at murdering him in his own habitat moved through me, I came to a conclusion about spiders and people.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are or how beneficial you may be to society; nobody likes a creep.

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4 Replies to “Lessons From Spiders 4: Of Beauty and the Beast”

  1. Auntie Lori. I love how you write, because I can hear your voice telling the story. You give inanimate, so-called meaningless things, that people casually stroll by everyday, a chance to come to life. And I love hearing it. I’m glad I’m ‘privy’ to how your brain works 😉 Can’t wait to hear more stories in person, and we can resume making our own. Xo

    1. Beth, thank you for your lovely words. I’m so happy you can hear my voice in my stories and that I breathe life into everyday things for you. Thank you for spending time with me through my blog.

  2. Sweet Lori!!! You have entertained me once again. Especially about the spiders. Also my nemesis! My thoughts about them are so much like yours that I think I may have Tourette’s too! ( I just knew you had to squish that spider). These stories make me miss you more. Please keep writing them. Lots of love and hugs from auntie ev and uncle ron.

    1. Oh Sweet Auntie Ev, I’m so glad you’re a reader. It’s great to have you and Ron along for the trip into my meandering mind. And as for squishing the spider…well…was their really an option? Thanks for the comment. I promise to keep writing.

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