It's not that I don't like spiders.
It's the terror that creeps into the very cracks and crannies of my brain at the mere thought of them that I don't like.
Those cracks and crannies, incidentally, are just like the ones where they like to spin their webs and lie in wait for unsuspecting arachnophobes like myself.
Okay, I lied. I'm not unsuspecting. I'm ever-suspicious of dank corners and the dark, low ceilings of cellars and
root houses - like the root house I used to have to enter practically every day as a boy, from autumn through spring (thankfully, summer's potatoes were hauled straight out of the garden, in the light of day), to fetch the potatoes it was my duty to peel for the evening meals.
I still shudder at the mere thought of stepping down into that veritable den of arachnid iniquity - the webs crawling over my hair and cheeks, brushing my shoulders and infesting my clothing.
Layers of my brain feel like they're peeling away every time I so much as spare a momentary thought for how I had to reach into those spider-infested bins of potatoes.
Oh, I know they were there. I know there were spiders crawling over my hands and across my back and up my legs. as long as I was inside that dingy, dark, below-ground root storage - precisely the kind of place that spiders have claimed for their own since the pre-dinosaur times when they were among the world's dominant species - football-sized, with fangs the size of ballpoint pens.
Football spiders and three-foot dragonflies. My colleague Matthew Claxton recently sent shivers down my spine with his tales of spiders invading his home, taking over his world - a nightmarish world, indeed.
While the day of the spiders' domination is actually in the past, not likely the future, he pointed up a fact that I try to push far into the furthest reaches of my mind, the nether cracks and crannies where only the spiders might dwell: this is the time of year when the spiders rise again. This is the time of year when, indeed, they invade my otherwise blissful, relatively spiderless existence.
This is the time of year when they seek shelter indoors to escape the cold, hard reality of fall. and deadly winter. Leave the slightest crack for them, and in they flit, scurrying almost audibly across the floor.
This is the time of year at which, coincidentally, they have reached the peak of size, their most horrific of proportions, which in the case of some local species can be measured in whole inches.
Interestingly, only the ubiquitous orb spinners seem not to bother me.
Oh, yes, once upon a time they did. But one day - a sunny early-fall day like many we are experiencing this year - I steeled myself, grabbed my camera, fitted to it my finest macro lens, headed into the back yard and began shooting them.
Understand this: I do not like killing spiders, and rarely do, if they keep their distance. They have an important place in my garden's ecosystem - a place that I grudgingly accept as necessary.
Like almost the only hunters I have much admiration for anymore, I shot my prey with the camera, getting up close and personal with a couple attempting (or actually, not attempting, in the case of the female) to mate.
Interestingly, the male must quickly advance and avoid his mate's fangs until he can temporarily paralyze her. Or die trying.
Somehow, that photographic exercise immunized me against my irrational fear - of that species, at least. Perhaps the attempt at understanding set me free. And maybe there's a lesson to be derived from that.
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