The Zipper

Some people are indifferent about bugs. They don’t love them. They don’t hate them. Bugs are bugs. Oh, look…it’s a cricket on my shoulder! What an amazing little creature!

Not me.

A cricket lands on my shoulder, and I don’t even give it a chance to be identified. As I slap whatever it is far into the yard, I shudder and squirm while making a pitiful, crybaby-like face as if I just witnessed someone slowly chewing a mouthful of live worms.

I go through the same physical gyrations whenever I see a spider larger than a dime.  Especially if it’s within six inches of my face and closing fast, such as the time I was cursed with rotten luck while riding my lawn mower. I had been cutting the grass for about an hour—eyes down, focused on the pathway—when, by chance, I happened to look up, and spotted a zipper spider, known for the zipper-like design spun in the center of their webs. They are black and yellow, and make Death look more approachable. Websites will tell you zipper spiders can get up to 1.5 inches long. This is a lie. Their bodies alone are the size and volatility of a hand grenade, and legs like knitting needles.  Other unreliable sources will tell you the spiders are basically harmless, that they only deliver a bee-like sting. Another lie. Zipper spiders can devour goats, flocks of birds, and human heads in an hour. It is my personal belief that they can also hurl large stones over fifty feet.  It’s not a matter of whether or not you can escape their super glue-like webs, but rather how fast you can run.

I was all white knuckles on the mower as panic coursed through my brain. I took my foot off the accelerator, then began madly stomping the metal floor board where a small brake pedal was located…somewhere.  How many thousands of times had I stepped on that brake pedal without looking? And now, as I coasted closer to the spider, my size 13 shoe was failing me.

Six inches from nose-planting into arachnida vampirea, my foot finally found the brake pedal. I hit it hard, but that might not have been the best decision as the sudden change in direction lurched me forward…

*           *           *

Maybe this isn’t a story about my fear of spiders. Maybe it was never intended to be all about me. Maybe it’s about understanding and acceptance. Maybe that’s a stretch?

I don’t think so.

One more inch, and I would’ve touched the web. It would’ve been my end. The zipper spider would’ve consumed my head within the hour. But there was no chance as the miracle of the mower’s reverse pedal backed me safely away.

Twenty feet out, I stopped and shut off the engine. My heart pounding, I needed to cut the grass beneath the web and beyond. I had only one option…destroy the spider.

I went into the house and snatched a broom from the pantry. It’s always been my go-to weapon of destruction when dealing with domestic critters. I’ve shot many scorpions across the kitchen floor like they were hockey pucks. And spiders…oh, I’ve cleared countless pathways blocked by their annoying webs.

The spider hadn’t budged. It was positioned directly over its zipper webbing. Even standing six feet away, I felt extremely vulnerable. Ok, I might have exaggerated a little. So it didn’t eat goats or flocks of birds. So it really was about 1.5 inches in length. So what. It still had the ability to mess with my mind.

I turned with my left side facing the spider, then took a batter’s stance, holding the broom like a bat. Eye on the target. One mighty swing and I’d smash it out of the yard.  But then came the memory of my Little League baseball coach from decades ago. He was always reminding me of the basic fundamental tenets of the game. “Don’t just swing at any pitch,” he’d say. “Make sure it’s the right pitch.” How many times had I swung at pitches too high or too low and, in the process, struck out? How many times had I walked back to the dugout feeling dejected because I knew I had made a poor decision? Too many.

The zipper spider’s web—what an incredible architectural construction of innate ability. Despite how much I detest spiders, I could not deny its impressive geometrical design. The spider’s survival was dependent upon the strength and placement of its web, which had been spun between a vegetable garden’s fence post and a bush. Outside of violent weather and brush fires, the web’s integrity was vulnerable to one major threat: man.

Knees bent and feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, I settled into an athletic position. To generate the most power, I shifted my weight to the back leg. Like golf, the most effective swing comes from a relaxed grip, but the mere presence of the spider forced my hands to choke the broom.

Make sure it’s the right pitch. 

What could possibly be wrong with this pitch? I hated spiders, and this particular one was right in the strike zone. But in the moment of giving myself the green light to swing, I was interrupted by a moth that had carelessly flown into the web, and with no hope of escaping. There it would perish, destined to be a meal for one.

Sure enough, I watched the spider quickly react to the vibrations of its web, before spreading its legs over the moth and silencing it.

I found myself not favoring the spider’s predatory mastery, nor seeking to interfere and save the moth (how I would have accomplished that, I have no idea). I relaxed my grip on the broom and brought it down to my side.  Watching and accepting the scene as a whole, I let the spider be. Even though my annihilation of the spider could have been defined as “natural” since I am part of nature, I chose to isolate myself from such destruction, and admire the mechanical engineering required to stabilize the web. I was embarking on an understanding of just how mathematical spiders are. Their innate knowledge of trigonometry in relation to angular tensions is unmatched within the animal kingdom.  As much as I hated this spider, I decided not to swat it to smithereens, but basically gave it freedom to move about my yard. For a moment—well, several moments—I wondered if I had simply lost my mind.

*        *        *

Some people are indifferent about bugs. They don’t love them. They don’t hate them. Bugs are bugs. Oh, look…it’s a cricket on my shoulder!  What an amazing little creature!

 Yep, that’s me.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

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