Along Came a Spider

“What is THAT?” I asked, but of course I knew what it was. It was hard to mistake the discernible eight legs when they were sprouted from a dark body against a white wall.

Rich and I were on a trip inland in New South Wales visiting his aunt and uncle. It’s the deepest inland I’d been to date. Officially the farthest west I’d been in my life.

They are working on putting up a fence and needed a little extra muscle power to help do it, so they tapped the newly arrived, currently unemployed Richard to help with the job.

They have a beautiful sprawling new ranch-style home on acres of land, six horses, several sheep, one alpaca, an adorable trio of dogs, and one cat who thinks it’s a dog.

Tom greeted us when we arrived and gave us a delightful tour of the house, and when we sat down to have tea I noticed another visitor who had joined us.

“Oh, it won’t hurt you,” Uncle Tom told me, cool as a cucumber.

“No, but it’s already crawled into my nightmares.”

He laughed.

I, of course, wasn’t cool in the slightest. I was a puddle of fright. It was a room away but, as fate would have it, perfectly in my peripheral. There was no forgetting its presence.

The spider I spotted, of course, was a huntsman. The uniqueness of them is that they don’t spin webs. As the name suggests, they hunt. They live inside tree bark and when they’re hungry, they’re on the ground (or on the wall, or on the ceiling) waiting for prey to cross their path. And then they strike.

They, of course, have fangs. And they run fast. Really fast.

So they’re freaky little buggers, but 90% of the Australians I’ve met aren’t phased in the slightest.

“Of course they have venom, but you don’t have to worry about it.”

No, I usually reply, I don’t worry about it hurting me. But I’m sure it will haunt me.

They’re big. For an American, they’re VERY big. I’d never seen a spider quite like it until I arrived here, save for maybe a tarantula at a zoo. But people can sense my fear and, more often than not, I’m sure, they’re a little confused by it.

The things are just gross, but I understand their purpose. They will eat flies and mosquitos (thank goodness) among other things (think wasps who would try to attack them). Sometimes, depending on their individual size, they’ll eat things bigger (unimaginable terror). They’re an integral part of the ecosystem, sure. They are also an absolutely horrifying sight.

The one I spotted high up on that white wall didn’t have any intention to move. That is, until Uncle Tom went over and coaxed it down with a tea towel.

As a generalization, Australian people are lax. They’re quiet and polite. I try to reflect this demeanor, but when he began shooing that spider from its perch with a tea towel, I did my damndest to stifle my screams.

Screams, truly, as if I was being chased by an axe murderer. That spider probably didn’t even process my existence, but boy I was quick to process his.

Uncle Tom couldn’t quite reach it, so what did he do? He stood on a chair. He actually got closer. The huntsman had a hunter.

And here’s the real crescendo of horror. As the spider ran down the wall, agitated, it found a place behind a small book shelf. Uncle Tom didn’t lose sight of him, for it was of true beastly proportions.

Uncle Tom dipped the towel behind the shelf, against the wall, and ushered the monster out. When it finally came out from its poor hiding spot (I can only imagine how many other are hiding in similar spaces––and it turns my knees to jello just at the thought) Uncle Tom did the unthinkable.

He caught the bloody thing IN HIS HANDS with nothing more than a slight cushioning from the tea towel. And, as it were, he was quite comfortable having it there.

“You have to hold it lightly or you’ll kill it.”

Or. You’ll. Kill. It. He said, as if that wouldn’t be the objective.

But it isn’t. He kindly wrapped it up, took it out the door, (“I’ll go this way,” he politely decided, specifically so I wouldn’t have to be any closer to the thing than I already was) and set it free.

An act of heroism toward both me and the spider. Today, everybody lived. And here I am, living in a place where spiders have a place of respect in the garden as much as they do in the home.

Though I felt a bit like I was the one who way making a big stink about it, I was glad for his wife to level with me. She was out during the debacle, but I was quick to update her on the horror when she returned.

“There was a HUGE one in the house!”

“Where!” she took the bait.

“Just on the wall, I spotted it and Tom took it outside.”

“Oh good,” she sighed with relief.

“So you don’t like them either?” I looked for assurance.

“Oh god no!”

Later that day, Tom called me over to “show me something.”

“Oh my God,” I chanted, trying to muster courage from some higher power. Luckily, he was polite enough the first time not to freak me out by getting too close, so I was sure this time around he would be just as kind.

And he was, and for good reason. He had a different spider to show me now, one that cleverly hid itself. But he knew the signs it left behind when it lurked, and he was careful to identify it without rousing it.

“This one you have to be careful of,” he explained, as fat black spider with a red hourglass shape on its abdomen crawled out from inside a fence post.

“It will bite you, and it will do damage.”

Lovely, I thought. But just as before, there was very little alarm. He likened it to the American black widow (as if the familiarity would do anything to quell the fear). Again, he didn’t kill it. He put the post back down, one that he had full intentions of picking up and slotting into its proper place later, and carried on with his day.

There’s fear everywhere. Danger always lurks throughout our lives. But if there’s one thing I’m gradually (and somewhat reluctantly) learning of life from Australians is that you just can’t let it stop you from carrying on. We’re humans, we’re ultimately the top dogs, so there’s really no use sweating the (literal and figurative) small stuff, even if they do have an unnatural amount of legs.


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