|"Smiling Spider," Odilon Redon|
I'm afraid of spiders. I wish I wasn't. After all, I'm a self-proclaimed Nature Girl, always ready to defend the rights of bats, snakes, birds, possums and other "fearsome" creatures that other people dislike. It's embarrassing to have a secret phobia of my own.
Intellectually, I know that my arachnophobia is irrational. Sure, some spiders will bite, and a few are poisonous. Still, they are tiny, and I am huge. Maybe if I lived in Australia, which is chock full of deadly spiders, I could feel better about my wussiness. (Although I just read that no one in Australia has died from a spider bite since 1979. So many of my handy fun facts, ruined by the Internet!.)
Illinois, on the other hand, has a lackluster sampling of dangerous spiders. Only two, the brown recluse and the black widow, are poisonous, and even they rarely do much mischief. Many spiders aren't even able to bite people, and none want to. After all, what's in it for them? I can honestly say that spiders have really done me no harm at all, unlike, say, cats.
I'm trying to conquer my phobia. As proof of this, I present Happy, a funnel web spider (the Illinois kind, not the terrifying Australian kind) who decided to spin his funnel on the gate by my door. It's right under the outdoor lamp, so he probably gets more bugs than he can eat of an evening.
I wasn't too pleased when Happy set up shot. My hand has to reach in his general vicinity every time I let my dogs in or out. He creeps out in the evenings, sitting in the base of his funnel, waiting for bugs by the moonlight. I have to admit he just minds his own business, and I've kind of gotten used to him over the weeks. I thought I might be making some progress.
If only it were that easy! Last week, as I was walking on a trail by the lake, looking for warblers, my path was blocked by a spiderweb. The spider was not especially large, but it was extremely ugly, with a squat bulbous body. They're very common this time of year, but I'm not sure of the name--maybe arboreal orbweaver? In any case, it had woven its orb from one side of the trail to the other, so I had to think of a way to get by without actually harming the spider.
I threw a stick one corner of the web, trying to break it free from the bushes. The web jiggled, the spider quivered, but everything stayed in place. I threw another stick. This one tore the corner of the web away from the tree. The whole thing sagged enough that I could now squeeze by, leaving the spider free to dangle unharmed. I took a deep breath and dodged past.
After my dash of courage, I turned to make sure that Mr. Creepy Legs was accounted for. The web was there, swaying slightly...but where was the spider? All I could think was, Oh my God, what if it's ON me? My body went into panic mode. I felt queasy and clammy and just one beat away from shrieking and flailing in the most embarrassing manner. And then I looked further up, and saw the spider, all bunched up at the very top of its ruined web. It looked kind of...scared, really.
I've been thinking, lately, about people's reactions to nature. A lot of them appear to be based in fear, which seems rather problematic. Right now I have tons of questions percolating around my head--now that more people live in urban areas, do we have more nature phobias? Less? What triggers these phobias, and why are they so variable? Does being afraid of something in nature make people more ambivalent about protecting it? And why are phobias completely immune to reason?
I don't have answers, yet. For my spider phobia, the short answer is that I'm phobic because my mom is, and her mom before her, etc., each generation teaching the next to run in a panic at the sight of eight legs. But not everyone with a phobic parent becomes phobic themselves.
Some people blame our distant ancestors, theorizing that fear of spiders was a survival mechanism. Others are not convinced. After all, spiders really aren't dangerous enough to justify an evolutionary adaptation to scream at the sight of them. And many people aren't afraid of spiders. I kind of side with the second group, because it seems that if my phobia really were based on survival, I wouldn't mind spiders, but would run in terror at the sight of an alligator. Seriously, which is more likely to mess me up? And yet, when I saw an alligator sunning itself by a trail in Texas, my reaction was to take a photo.
If it had been a big spider right in front of me? You'd probably still hear me screaming.
In the meantime, do you have an irrational nature phobia?