Ed Colby: Crossing paths with a nasty little recluse
July 23, 2002
To kill a brown recluse spider, just pound it with your fist. I smash them like the Nice Glove in Yellow Submarine.
My New Castle neighbor Pat taught me everything I needed to know about brown recluses. She had one in a jar. They’re about a half-inch long, and with their legs, they’re as big as a quarter. We see them all the time.
In hot weather Linda and I like to camp on the deck outside Linda’s piano studio. The Milky Way stretches overhead, and we point to constellations. By morning, it’s cool, not cold, and we curl up under a single blanket.
Spot sleeps with us to warn us if a mountain lion comes creeping down off the Hogback. He just doesn’t warn us when the brown recluses come creeping.
On the deck the other night, while Linda read a book that vividly describes the perils of camping on the Appalachian Trail, a darting movement caught my eye. As quick as you please, my fist crashed onto the deck. “What was that?” Linda said.
“Brown recluse, dearest,” I said.
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“Oh,” she said. She never even looked up.
“They give me the creeps,” I said.
“Oh, just go to sleep,” she said. “Why would they come and bite you?”
“They hunt at night,” I said “When you turn off the light, moths fall onto our bed. I’m going inside. You do what you want.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
Napoleon called predawn courage the rarest kind. At 4 a.m., when Linda slipped in beside me, she wanted to talk. “There were two more out there,” she said.
Brown recluses rarely bite. They run, but if you roll over onto one in bed, she gently clasps onto you, like a vampire.
In the morning your neck feels swollen and tender. You think, “Wow, what happened? I must have gotten stung by one of Ed’s bees.” You feel oddly chilled and achy, but you don’t have health insurance, so you just call in sick. By afternoon, you begin to shake, but you can’t make it to the phone. When your wife comes home from work, she finds you unconscious, and she dials 911.
You survive, and the ulcerous, softball-sized wound on your neck eventually heals, leaving a most prominent and disfiguring scar. You consult a plastic surgeon.
Something skitters across the floor, and your blood runs cold. This time you don’t squash the little monster. Instead, you trap her in a jar. You go on the Internet. You pull up a photo of a brown recluse. The recluse in the photo displays the characteristic “fiddle” design on its back, right behind its eyes, just where your little captive shows two black stripes. You learn that people confuse brown recluses and harmless brown wolf spiders all the time.
You download photos of 17 varieties of wolf spiders that all look pretty much like your little prisoner.
You go to the open window. You suck in the smoky Colorado air. You reach to touch the scar on your neck, and it’s gone. You have an epiphany.
You take the mason jar to the back door and tap the wolf spider onto the lawn. You don’t step on her.
Beekeeper and ski patroller Ed Colby’s column runs on Tuesdays. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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