Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sleeping with tarantulas

Two months ago, March 9th, Bev posted this question at Burning Silo;
How many of you are nervous of spiders? Are you bothered by looking at spiders? If you’re bothered by the sight of spiders, do you think it is tied to a particular incident, or do you feel you picked up a dislike or fear of spiders from something someone said? Would you describe your fear as arachnophobia?
In the comments, I promised a story. I'm finally getting around to it. Sorry about that.

I grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There were plenty of spiders, but none were poisonous. Running through the bush, sometimes we would crash through a web and brush the remains off our faces without slowing. No fuss. I even kept a big wolf spider as a pet for a while, feeding him house flies and mosquitoes.

When I was 17, we moved to Mexico. Things were different there; we had to be careful. Once, out camping, Mom picked up a piece of firewood, her hand an inch away from a big black widow. And old-timers told us about tarantulas the size of a plate. Worrisome.

We travelled, those first years, quite a bit. Mom and Dad had "stuff" to do in every town we visited; we kids hung around, keeping out of trouble. It was never boring, although some places were more interesting than others. Several times we visited people living on Lake Tequesquitengo. I loved that; my two brothers and I swam while our parents talked.

The water level of the lake had risen some time not so far past and many lake-shore houses were flooded and abandoned. We went exploring, swimming from one house to another. At one house, the overhang of an old covered patio just barely touched the lake surface. The boys ducked under, and swam in. I could hear them in there, exclaiming excitedly. Dave yelled, "Sue, come here! Come see!" So, of course, I ducked, swam a yard or two, and surfaced.

It was green and dim; all the light was coming up through the water. And in that dimness, I saw that the entire ceiling was covered in enormous black tarantulas. Some, too many, the size of a saucer; the stories were true. Supporting beams came inches from the water, with tarantulas on the bottom. Luckily I had come up under the (slightly) higher ceiling between. I screamed; I couldn't stop myself. Spiders shifted position, reacting to the movement on the water. I froze, treading water, trying to be invisible.

My brothers were a couple of beams over, laughing. Until they saw my face, at least.

The worst of it was that I couldn't swim out. If I ducked and swam, as I had done to enter, what would happen if I misjudged the distance and came up under one of those beams? What would happen if I hit one of those hairy monsters with my head?

But I couldn't just stay there! How long would it be before a spider decided to see if I was edible? The boys swam out, and called to me encouragingly from outside, but I couldn't move. Impossible! I tried to answer them, but my voice cracked, became another scream.

To this day, I have no recollection of the rest. I must have risked it; here I am, not eaten by tarantulas. But the rest of that swim is a complete blank.

And for the next decade, if a spider touched me (even a toy spider), I screeched and jumped away. A black spider on my floor would keep me out of the house until someone had killed it.

Another story, some 10 years later:

We were travelling with my younger brother and his family, down south, near Veracruz, the two families crammed together in his van. We arrived late one evening on a beach; it was too late to find a hotel in the village, so we would sleep in the van. Fine. But it was steamy and crowded in there, with 4 sweaty adults and 7 squirming kids. I couldn't breathe.

I dragged my sleeping bag outside and laid it out on the sand. The breeze from the water was cool; moonlight twinkled on the wavelets. I lay awake, listening to the rustle of palm fronds.

And then, another sound. Scritch-scritch-scritch-scritch... The sound of something scaly and dry, something like a crab. Or an insect, the large variety. I sat up and saw them; spiders, walking on the sand. Big ones.

The same old dilemma; what to do? Run back to the van, barefoot? Stepping on spiders all the way? No!

I pulled the sleeping bag over my head, zipping it up, tucking it tightly under me, holding it close, with only the merest crack for breathing. I lay as still as I could, so as not to merit investigation. Somehow, eventually, I slept.

I woke; I could hear voices and see light through the fabric of the sleeping bag. I unzipped it and looked around. The sun was up, the beach was clean. No spiders. I got up and joined the family.

Later on, preparing to leave, I picked up the sleeping bag to shake it out and roll it. Underneath, a big tarantula had taken refuge from the sun. He scuttled off.

I had been sleeping on him ... how long?

And that was the beginning of the end of that 10-year arachnophobia. I like spiders again, even make pets of them. At the moment, there are two in a bouquet of wild flowers on my kitchen table.
fishing spiderNo tarantulas, though.


  1. Great spider stories, Susannah. No wonder you experienced some arachnophobia -- especially after the swimming incident! I'll post a link to this story very soon. I'll be doing one of my "read and enjoyed" in the next day or two, so I'll link to it then.

  2. Anonymous4:11 am

    Oh, wow - what a story, so typical of brothers (and spiders). I, too, used to be scared of them, to the point I wouldn't touch the page of a book that had a picture of a spider on it.

    Now, after years of building habitat and appreciating them for their contribution to the environment, I've come to appreciate them and enjoy the beauty of them and their webs.

  3. That's quite a history with tarantulas. The swimming story is definitely scary. I'm glad you like spiders again. Me too. As long as they're not in the bedroom, I don't mind seeing them at all. I worked in a building on campus at UC Santa Cruz that had black widow spiders. I didn't mind them at all, but we had to get rid of them to protect the students. I was a bit sorry to see them go.

  4. HI! I love your spider stories! That must have been such a shock to see all those spiders(what a great horror movie scene!)--but moving from Vancouver Island to Mexico would have been an even bigger shock(to me at least!)--although that's cool to live in such different places.

    People make a living selling those dinner plate spiders for pets;0)

  5. OMG. I don't have anything 'near' your water/tarantula story and hope I never do. That is truly a nightmare. Have you forgiven those ornery brothers yet?

  6. Cathy,

    "Have you forgiven those ornery brothers yet?"

    Oh, of course. They were just doing what brothers do.

    And when, much later, the younger of the two sent me a letter that released a bouncy black rubber spider when I tore it open, I forgave him that, too.


I'm having to moderate all comments because Blogger seems to have a problem notifying me. Sorry about that. I will review them several times daily, though, until this issue is fixed.

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