I have always loved all animals, from the most innocent kitten to even having a deep admiration for the Great White Shark. And though I’ll never ever see a Tibetan snow leopard in my lifetime, I can appreciate its mystique, its ability to elude capture by the most avid, paparazzi wildlife experts. Ever witness via TV, newspapers, or personal experience to the atrocities man and womankind have perpetrated against others of the Earth’s creatures, those not of homosapien origin, I reserve respect, tolerance, and, yes, love for these animals who prevail despite human annoyance. Though admitting to killing a few mosquitoes and flies in my lifetime, I cannot exterminate a stinkbug, the alien-spaceship-looking insect that commits, with a Br-r-r-r-r-r, Br-r-r-r-r-r, Br-r-r-r-r-r, its kamikaze flight into my wall at night. Indeed, I have held nothing against snakes, beetles, or spiders--until now. I may need therapy: I am in deathly fear of a particular spider—one I have never met or ever care to—a brown recluse spider.
Never in a hundred years would I have ever thought I’d be intimindated by a member of the Arachnid family, having always laughed and mocked girlfriends and guy friends who cringed at sight of an innocuous bug. What fun I had making them feel silly that a human of 150-some pounds could fear an insect weighing a million times less than they did. And to prove my fearlessness, I would pick up the daddy-long-legger in the palm of my hand, as my friend scream-ran into the next room, and place him outside in a safe place so that my cats wouldn’t find him. I was protective of spiders whose ilk was bearing the burden of being a pox on nature.
In the last week, however, I must break out of my web of affection for all things eight-legged. I do now fear for my life a creature I have never seen or been bitten by. It haunts my dreams, interrupts my farm work with possible visions of its clandestine workings in a barn corner, grinds my calm to a screeching halt whenever I walk into a common spider web while walking my woods. This Arachnid, my experience with which has only been through an acquaintance, now holds my bravery towards all things insectile, hostage. Visions of a recluse spider crawling stealthily from under my boxspring at night, its hairy jaws flapping and salivating, honing in on what surely to him must look like a tasty morsel--my rump—interrupt my sleep. I lie awake like Poe’s paranoid narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” listening, fearing the inevitable, ready to tear up the floorboards to finally expose, not my guilt, but a murderously-poisonous monster.
My fear has no real base, I readily admit, but my life has been impacted by a bite to a worker who was scheduled to take down a dead, sixty-foot tree that would surely come down on my house in the next thunderstorm or blizzard. The man dropped his “bucket truck” on my property two weekends ago in anticipation of beginning the tree removal the following Monday. But that Monday Joe never showed, his truck, with a boom and a wood-chipper attached, loomed large and ominous in my front yard.
By Wednesday afternoon I phoned him to see what was the matter. He told me the news in a dead-serious voice: he had been bitten by a brown recluse spider one night while he slept on his pillows.
“A spider?!” I marveled, ready to laugh. “You’re not taking down my tree because a spider bit you!”
Joe said, “I’m afraid so. Listen, I am in agony—can hardly even walk! A week ago I was bit. I didn’t think much of it—sort of like a glorified mosquito bite. I’ve been putting over-the-counter stuff on it for all this time, but it’s been getting worse and worse. I ended up in the emergency room last night! Right now I have a red, swollen welt on my shoulder, and it hurts like hell. I have a fever, am a bit nauseous. I’m sorry, but I just can’t come out there to cut down your tree. I’m on antibiotics and some other shot a doctor gave me. And I’m telling everyone I meet to google “brown recluse spider” because these bastards are out in force, only coming out at night when you’re sleeping. Did you know their bite can kill you, especially if you’re old or are a kid and if you have a weakened immune system. I’m a strapping guy, so it should go away with all these meds I’m taking, but others need to look out. This is one nasty spider; it’s a predator, and it takes no survivors.”
Joe’s voice shaked as he clarified the recluse’s portrait: fiddle shape behind the head, long, choppy jaws—“All the better for eating you, Honey”—long front legs spread out to the size of a silver dollar. He continued, “They come inside during the fall and take up in cluttered corners of the house. Their web is not nice and symmetrical, like some spiders’, but it looks more like a cobweb. Even their web is nasty-looking!”
I cringed, worried that one could be taking up residence under my bed. Other than that, I had little clutter around my place. Still, if a brown recluse wanted a piece of me, he’d be able to find a suitable hideout, I was sure.
“Seriously,” Joe said, “I’ve never had so much pain in my life. I’m telling everyone I meet to get insect killer and spray it all around the house—outside and inside. This spider can kill people, especially if it bites close to the heart. And I’m not the only one who’s been bitten by a brown recluse lately—seems everyone I meet has been bitten, especially lately. They’re out in force! I’m advising you to call an exterminator and have him treat your whole house for brown recluses. Trust me: you don’t want to get bitten by one. This is the worst pain I’ve felt in my life!”
I commiserated with Joe for awhile, wished him luck in healing up his spider wound, and hung up the phone, glancing into every corner in the office in search of a cobwebby spider house. I saw none, but it didn’t make me feel any safer. The bedroom would need a careful inspection, too.
For another week Joe’s tree-cutting truck sat, a continual specter, before my house. Every morning I expected to see Joe drive up in his car, wave, and get out his chainsaw, but he never came. So, after the week had passed, I called him again—to make sure he was still alive.
A weak voice answered, “Hell-o-o-o.”
“Joe, is that you?” I said.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“You sound awful.”
“I am worse. I went to the emergency room again last night, and they switched the antibiotics. You should see the spider bite. It’s raised up about a half inch, it’s black, like it’s dead tissue underneath, and there’s a huge red ring around it, too. I feel just awful—am really sorry that I haven’t been able to get to your tree. But I just can’t. I can’t move my shoulder, let alone climb a tree and use a chainsaw. This bite really has me worried. If I’d have been old, I’d be dead from it by now. Did you get your house sprayed for spiders yet?”
“No, I didn’t. Can’t afford it right now,” I said.
“Well, you need to. If you get bit, you’ll know what excruciating pain is like. Those bastard spiders are pure evil. I’ve been battling this thing now for three weeks, and it’s not getting any better. I’m really scared!”
“Joe, don’t worry about the tree. Get to it after you get over this bite. I googled the brown recluse, but it’s hard to tell it apart from others. And my woods is just loaded with all kinds of spiders. I’m sure I’ve got recluses, too.”
“Well, I caught two of them in my bedroom,” Joe yelped. “I killed the bastards, too. I’ll bring one along when I get to your place. Then you can watch out for them.”
“Yeah, that would be helpful,” I sighed uneasily.
Another week has passed; Joe’s truck sits stolid, unmoving, in front of my woods. I should call Joe to see how he’s getting along, but I can’t stand any more cautionary tales of the brown recluse. I’ve already developed a morbid fear of the animal—a characteristic I would never have thought I’d own--and I haven’t even seen one or been threatened by any. On any day I deal with animals twice and ten times my own weight: my pot-bellied pigs and the horses. I have no fear of them or sharks in the ocean or other insects, reptiles, and such. But I must admit that every night finds me, like Poe’s tell-tale victim, with one eye open, on guard, looking, watching, one eagle-eye gaping in anticipation of a hungry, hairy hellion on eight legs.