Vagneur: Eight legs of tenacity
He came slowly across the floor toward my daughter, big, black and burly, hairy legs thumping a staccato beat, his eyes without emotion or visible intent.
“Dad,” my daughter hollered, “kill him.”
We had ridden our horses into cow camp for our annual celebration of my birthday, late September, and were just setting up our bedrolls when the action started taking place. A lonely cabin in the mountains, built for summertime use only, and not exactly bug (or mouse) proof, usually held a few surprises when we ventured there.
“It’s bad luck to kill a spider,” I said, and left the decision to my kid.
About three-quarters of an inch across, he was not a small spider at all, and he went down with somewhat of a sickening splat that brought forth, if not an actual “Yuck,” certainly the thought of such a description.
And then it happened, a surreal demonstration of sincere objection to the murder of one of their own — five of the spiders, looking like exact duplicates of the one we’d just killed and in a formation not unlike a small group of 1880s cavalry troops, began advancing on my daughter’s position. There was no doubt that retribution was the focus of their charge, and in a way difficult to describe, the thought of combat with a cadre of spiders made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
That was about 12 or 15 years ago, and as much as it hurt me to do so, you might say we came out on top of that skirmish. In the interim since, I’ve become more aware that our supposed superiority over other creatures on this earth, even the smallest, is more of a mirage than a reality.
Along a quiet wall of my bathroom, squeezed in a small corner between the wall and the vanity, a solitary spider keeps a willowy, faint, cotton-candy-like web, not really the attractive and carefully crafted kind one sees in nursery-rhyme drawings but nonetheless totally effective. I don’t know where it goes during the day, or night, if anywhere, but every time I take a shower, I can see the effects of its cunning lair. A small insect occasionally (maybe once a week) becomes ensnared in this sticky thread, never to leave again, and although my tiny friend doesn’t appear to like the legs of said bugs, it fastidiously removes them so the next victim doesn’t have a reason to become suspicious. And I have to say, a beastie the size of a fly lasts considerably longer than one might think, although feasting on two at the same time appears to make the spider seem a gourmand.
On a good day, it comes out from behind the vanity countertop, where it disappears for hours at a time, and looks up at me, as though we’re having some kind of conversation. It could all be anthropomorphism, but I believe there is trust building between us. It’s reasonably sure I’m not going to suck it up into the bowels of my Dyson superpower vacuum, and I’m thinking that if I let it and its confusion of silk work the way nature intended, it won’t be slipping into my bed in the middle of the night to bite me.
And you can say what you want about spiders, but they are, among everything else, predators. Entrapment is their game, while other creatures rely more on opportunism of the moment to gain their fare.
Spiders are quiet, stealthy, if you will, but a cursory examination of their lives will educate you to the fact that they are common symbols in art and mythology, representing patience, resourcefulness, open-mindedness and creativity.
If we think of ourselves in terms of spiders, those creepy-crawly things that tend to make people squirm, perhaps we can better understand the notion that the world we make for ourselves is a great web of our own doing, and if it’s used in the proper context, we can become the masters of our universe. Through the experience of watching spiders, we can learn to be tenacious, creative and agile and to follow our hearts.
And if you still don’t care for spiders or their usefulness to the world around you, think about what Albert Camus said in reference to spiders as a symbol: “In order to be created, a work of art must first make use of the dark forces of the soul.” Look inward for your guiding spirit — and caress a spider.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.