What the hammer? What the chain, in what furnace was thy brain? Blake’s Songs of Experience seem particularly fitting for our dealings with spiders, don’t you think? Okay, they’re a little less in your face than Tygers, but it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, right?
I’m just saying that spiders occupy an inordinate amount of territory in our Umwelt. Along with snakes and other things that hide in outhouses and under logs, they are a bare skin’s nightmare.
So why am I even bringing up the topic? Well, because the world’s oldest known spider has died at 43! Damn! Who knew they could even live that long? https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-oldest-spider-has-died-age-43-180968918
I’m wondering if longevity is going to be an unintended consequence of my not killing the one that always sneaks across the kitchen floor. Of allowing it to crawl each time onto a cleverly held piece of paper far from my fingers and flinging it out of the door. Of tolerating the web attached to the woodpile in the garage in hopes it might discourage the skunk that moves in every spring.
Never an arachnophobe with the small Canadian selection we house, I have to say that size and hirsutivity would probably change all that. So would noise. Anything that clicked its jaws or, you know, growled or something, would make me think twice about reaching willy-nilly for the stash of chocolate bars I keep in the cupboard. Who knows what they eat when I’m not around?
I was surprised to read that ‘While many common house spiders live a few years some can survive up to seven years. Tarantulas, on the other hand, can live into their 20s.’ But, even if I never see a tarantula strutting across the kitchen floor, I still feel guilty about how I’ve treated the quiet, mild mannered little bald ones that board with me. Seven years? I’ve had dogs that didn’t live that long -and they all had names. I recognized them. Greeted them. And despite never really doing anything for me, except maybe picking up sticks, or retrieving the occasional ball, I would lavish them with time. The nameless spiders, on the other hand, were like unregarded, age in corners thrown, all the while silently ridding my house of pests I’d rather not be bothered with while I’m eating.
Ants are annoying -there are too many to call by name, and they never stay on the paper while you search for an open window. And besides, you just know they’re up to no good. It’s okay to squash them. But spiders are a different matter -a lot of people are afraid of them; they don’t name them either, of course, but for different reasons: why name something you are going to immediately step on, or swat with a book? And anyway, killing something you’d already nicknamed Chelsea, would require years of psychoanalysis to undo. A tangled web, indeed.
At any rate, I decided it was probably about time I took a stand on spiders -well, no, not on them exactly. More about them, I suppose -I felt the time had come to name some of the regulars. Get to know them, sort of. Unfortunately, at first they all looked the same to me: four pairs of legs walking up a wall does not offer many personal clues. But seven legs walking up the same wall is like seeing the same dog in the same park wearing the same pink lampshade around its head. You notice stuff when you really try.
I named my seven-legged spider Seven. I figured it was a start. And I picked a gender-neutral name because, well, it was difficult to tell what I was dealing with. I mean they all dress the same, eh? Anyway, like SETI, I wanted to make contact, so whenever I saw it I would say its name softly and gently, so it would learn. At first, I also clearly articulated my name and pointed to my chest, but it seemed to take the movement as a threat and would scuttle away.
I think it gradually got used to me, though, and I’d like to think that sometimes it even came out to greet me and wave some of its legs when I said its name. At least it did before that time I tripped going up the stairs with a load of laundry. Spiders don’t know much about laundry and how hard it is for me to see my feet. But I’d like to think Seven is now living out its years in a drawer somewhere, and cleverly dodging the socks I grab in the dark each morning.
But I didn’t pour all my emotional resources into just one spider. I got kind of attached to the spider who keeps spinning webs between the woodpile and the overhead light in the garage. Bigger than Seven, it also seemed more sedentary. I called it Webbie, mostly so I could remember the name, but I was tempted to memorialize Seven by calling it Eight. In the end, that seemed too open-ended, though. Too tempting to give everything a number and thereby merely risk categorizing otherwise unique and individual personae as members of an infinitely expandable set. I mean, I wouldn’t do that to a dog.
Anyway, Webbie seemed interested in me whenever I leaned over the woodpile. It watched my every move, and I got the distinct impression it was studying me. I suppose it didn’t have much else to do, but nonetheless it was a little unnerving. Unlike Seven, Webbie seemed so… serious. He reminded me of a seedy tailor in a rundown neighbourhood, always eager for new business. And I’m not at all sure it liked its name -in fact, I got the impression that where it came from, it was used to an honorific. Or maybe Webbie means something terrible in spider -it’s so hard to know the appropriate respect to show with another species, eh?
I don’t know what happened to Webbie, though. Perhaps he simply decided it was too dangerous to live near an active woodpile. Or maybe he got tired of the motion-sensitive light going on and off whenever the wind blew leaves into the garage. Whatever it was, Webbie was there one day and gone the next, and I am the poorer for it.
It’s always hard to lose a friend, I think -even one who probably didn’t like me. But I feel a need for closure, nevertheless. Have I been too hard on spiders? Do I expect too much of them? Am I too anthropomorphic? Insufficiently arachnomorphic for their tastes? Perhaps empathy was never designed to cross those lines, and whatever I attempted was ultimately doomed to fail -although I still feel better for the effort. And I’m working on better names.