Spider Farm

I don’t remember when I began to fear spiders. I can remember playing with cellar spiders and holding them in my hands, but at some point I became convinced that they were plotting my death. My mother blames Scooby Doo cartoons, with their spider webs hanging over everything. I’ve never been the manly sort, but I refuse to believe that anything the Scoobies encountered ever frightened me.
I have theories of my own: the scene in “The Incredible Shrinking Man” where Grant Williams fights a spider over some cake; the thought of brainless, instinctual hunters; the obvious fact that spiders are downright terrifying.
The actual source of my fear is purely academic. When I see a spider on my steering wheel, I don’t think “My, my. An arachnid! I wonder if mayhap the giant cave spider episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ planted the seed of unease that has grown into my current pants-shitting terror.” Rather, I think “AAAAAAAGH!” and try to avoid crashing while I crawl into the back seat.
Oddly, tarantulas don’t inspire the same fear in me. I’m sure one would scare me if it appeared on my steering wheel, but no more so than would anything else — say a koala bear or a presidential candidate. I made a study of tarantulas when I designed a crochet pattern for the Mexican Red-knee species, and I don’t consider them to be spiders anymore. For them, I have only the wariness I feel of any non-domesticated fangy creature.
An ordinary house spider, though — clearly part of the vast anti-hominid conspiracy.
One night when I was very young, I awoke to find myself surrounded by dense webbing. I wasn’t certain what would happen if I touched it, largely because the phrase “immediate desiccation” resided outside of my vocabulary, but I knew that I shouldn’t move. Looking to my left, I saw something incredible. There was a clear path to the door! It wasn’t very high, but I could make it if I was careful. I slid gingerly out of bed and crawled slowly out of my bedroom. Then I ran to my parents for help.
My mom was less than sympathetic to my plight when no webbing was evident in my room.
Clearly, I’d been set up. But how? By whom? The answers came quickly. As I glared sullenly at the ceiling I caught movement in the corner of my room, where the walls before and to the right of my bed met the ceiling. A light twinkled there, dim but observable in the darkness. At once I realized that the spiders had a holographic projector. Jerks!
Those deceptive spiders got left behind during the first of many moves in my childhood, and I’ve not encountered any with that mastery of technology since. They appear to be local to Kent County, Michigan. If you’re in that region and experience horrific visions in your bedroom at night, you should check the corners of your bedroom ceiling. Or pull the mask off of old man Jenkins.
What worries me more than spiders with technology are social spiders. Working alone, even the venomous ones are at a disadvantage against humans. But a group of spiders that will not attack each other can even take out William Shatner — at least until his character is miraculously resurrected for the final reveal.
In Australia a few weeks ago, wolf spiders escaped rising floodwaters and took over nearby farmland. Pictures showed webs covering everything; in one a dog wandered through tall grass under a canopy of webbing. None showed any victims drained of all body fluids, but when ‘Australia’ and ‘spiders’ share a sentence I’m pretty sure that those are a given.
Back in 2007, conditions at a Lake Tawakoni State Park in Texas created an overabundance of insects. Food was so plentiful that the spiders didn’t have to compete for resources. Quite the opposite, their response was to work together and share in the bounty! This incident involved spiders of different species, although the majority seemed to be Long-jawed Orb Weavers. The pictures showed white curtains wrapping and connecting trees. White curtains, filled with hungry, cooperative death machines.
John Wyndham, most famous for the novels that “The Day of the Triffids” and “The Village of the Damned” were based on, left behind an early draft of a book upon his death. Called Web, it told of an island where a group of idealistic settlers encounter a species of spider that form battalions and swarm like army ants. The infested scenery Wyndham describes matches precisely the pictures from Texas.
If that’s not enough to remove arachnophobia as an official diagnosis of mental disturbance, consider the series “The Future is Wild”. Aired in 2002, the show explored evolutionary possibilities put forth by a team of scientists that included mostly biologists, botanists, geologists, and zoologists. Different landscapes in one of three future eras were examined each episode, with descriptions of a few potential species that would be suitable to the environment.
Episode 9, “The Great Plateau”, takes place 100 million years in the future and focuses on the region where Australia, Japan, and Kamchatka have collided. Here dwell poggles, the cute descendants of hamsters. They are the last mammals on Earth(!), and they eat seeds in tunnels along the cliff tops. How do they get the seeds? Well, a community of silver spiders collects them from the wind with giant webs. The seeds are provided to the poggles, and if once in a while a poggle becomes spider food, that’s just the rent.
That’s right. Spiders. Farming mammals. In Australia.
Now if only I could make my fear of telephones seem that reasonable.

It’s Good to be Lucky

We’re told that a good goal is one that is achievable. My dog had a single goal, and he achieved it at a fairly young age.

Lucky was an excitable yellow and white mutt who may have had some Collie in his heritage, particularly in his nose. His snout was about five or six inches long, which gave him a much more impressive jaw than that of our sour old miniature poodle.

I used to play “jaws” with him. He’d lie on his back, for reasons he never explained, and his upper lip would hang slightly to reveal his front teeth. The objective of jaws was to tap his teeth and pull my finger away before he bit it off. I always won, and his mouth would snap shut with a clapping noise that delighted me. Not a very good game perhaps, but it entertained us well enough.

His favorite game though was “git ‘im”. This was played during the brief period that we lived on the “less good” end of the street. Our back yard was fenced, and the door to it was in an odd room that only seemed to exist to join the garage to the house. There was a large tree about 20 feet straight out from the back door, just near the picket fence. The most crucial element of the game was “‘im”, the squirrel. I think of it as the same squirrel, waiting for the door to open to try its luck for one more day.

Certainly the sameness of the game play bordered on ritual. Lucky would fidget at the door; I would rev him up, asking “Ready? Ready?”; when I deemed him to be at maximum throttle, I’d fling open the door and urge “Git ‘im”; and within a few seconds he’d be barking and dancing at the base of the tree as the squirrel raced upward to safety. This was a good game that left Lucky well satisfied, and occasionally muddy.

Well satisfied, but not completely satisfied. Lucky lived for one objective: to fill his mouth with squirrel. If he could close his teeth on that squirrel just once, he could die fulfilled. Maybe on the spot.

It came to pass, one fine afternoon when he was about three years old, that Lucky met his goal. Everything began as usual, following established procedure. I wound him up, opened the door, and snarled “Get ‘im!” Lucky tore outside, shredding the turf between the house and the tree. The squirrel shat itself (presumably) and wound its way up the trunk… and then improbability teamed up with inevitability, and Lucky got, well, lucky.

The squirrel slipped. It slipped and fell — directly into Lucky’s mouth.

This is a dog that chewed shoes with the feet still in them. He shook his toys until their hypothetical necks were broken in all of the breakable places. The life expectancy of the squirrel was now a span of time that approached 0 seconds but did not reach it. To be honest, I was shocked. As were the squirrel and, surprisingly, the dog.

None of us moved. For a few protracted seconds, potentials worked out which would triumph.

The squirrel was first to react. Realizing that the jaws of death had not yet closed, it carefully slipped to the ground. It looked up at Lucky, still frozen in confusion, then bolted up the tree again.

With events returned to a familiar course, Lucky came alive. He barked and danced around the tree, tearing up the sod; then he trotted off contentedly to do his business.

He never had a better day.

Would Lucky have been happier if he’d killed the squirrel? Maybe. Certainly not the next day, or the day after that, continuing until a new squirrel moved in to the yard. His goal was simple: catch the squirrel.

End of story, it was a good goal.