Worse than snakes

I'm an arachnophobe. I have an illogical, unexplainable fear of spiders. I've listened to all the gardeners' spiels about how wonderful spiders are for eating up bad insects. My parents chided me as a child for being afraid of “something so tiny” compared to my size. I read Charlotte's Web and loved Charlotte, until I remembered she was really a spider. It may be an irrational fear, but it's very real. The very thought of them gives me goosebumps. Years ago, I nearly wrecked my Dad's car when a very small spider announced his presence by gliding down his web from the sunscreen and dangling directly in front of my nose while I was driving. My son used to hide plastic spiders in the freezer and the ice cube tray to terrorize me. The ultimate was when both sons announced they had a new pet named Regina. Turned out Regina was a black widow spider who lived in a window well and they'd been feeding her flies. Out came the can of Raid and Regina was history despite the “Mom, you're so unfair” histrionics from the boys.

We spent a day in the Darien Jungle hunting for elusive harpy eagles. Our 5-foot tall guides had no problems scooting under the spider webs which hung over the damp, thickly overgrown path. Being 5'9”, however, had me eye to eye with one spider about as big as a Buick. I screamed, knocked off my hat and David did a quick spider check much to the amusement of the locals. I hollered in Spanish “I'm afraid of spiders. I hate spiders.” Unfortunately, the word for spider in Spanish is very close to the word for sand. You guessed it...I was screaming about my fear of sand, not spiders. Something definitely got lost in the translation.

In Fiji, I was admiring a cool t-shirt hanging on the wall in a little rural shop, thinking I'd buy it as a gift. Until...a very large brown hairy spider crawled out from behind it...a huntsman. The buying decision was immediately recanted and this buyer made tracks.

Access from the boat to the lovely resort at Palmlea in Vanua Levu, Fiji was along a beautiful tree-lined, grassy path. Several huge yellow orb spiders strung webs between the trees and hung about 10-15 feet over the pathway. There was definitely enough head clearance, but I cringed and hurried my step every time we walked up that path.

So here we are in Australia where some 2,000+ spider species live...that's about 1/17 of the worldwide identified 35,000 spider species. Scientists think there are probably many more unidentified species...but we really don't need to go there. Of the 2,000 species here, only about 17 species are harmless to humans. I was scared to death that I'd meet up with a Sydney funnel web spider when we were in Sydney or a Blue Mountain funnel web when we went traipsing through the Blue Mountains with Doug & Fay last year. Our Aussie friends, David and Marly, sent us a funny YouTube video about the red back spiders that have a penchant for dunnies (outhouses). They especially like to hang out under the toilet seat. After the floods in Waga Waga this year, millions of sheet weaver spiders invaded the area covering the whole town in webs that looked like snow. Yuck!

Heading into the toilet block here in the marina the other day, I didn't notice a large huntsman all scrunched up in a corner of the toilet stall about three feet away from where I was sitting. I was in a no-move situation when I spotted him. He stretched. I cringed. He moved. I shuddered. I spoke to him calmly and passively. “Don't move, you big hairy bastard, till I'm done and out of here.” I don't usually swear, but I figured I'd stun him with my tough language. It worked. He froze. I finished, without taking my eye off him for a second. I slowly stood up; he inched. I repeated my harsh words with more venom in my voice this time. He remained stone still. I opened the door and slid past him like a wraith. Now every time I go into the toilet, it's an inconvenient, but necessary, time consuming effort to check the stall environs for eight-legged invaders or slithering ones or slimy ones. Since David & Marly's YouTube presentation, I check under the seat, too.

Though I hate spiders, I do appreciate their handiwork...all eight hands worth.