Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spiders, Spiders, Go Away, Come again some other day

                           Picture by Ella Power                8 years old

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been afraid of spiders. Ever since I had eyes to notice critters running on the walls of my childhood homes and a voice that could scream words, my fear of spiders was born. Back in the days, in my hometown of Brussels, houses made out of bricks were notorious for inhabiting black spiders the size of one of my small wrists. To my young eyes those hairy critters looked gigantic. Still today, I fear spiders especially the big hairy ones. I’ll scream for help while frozen by terror.

Yet California populates spiders as well. One well known in California is the Black Window. Black Widows are poisonous spiders. While the back of the female spider is totally black and shiny, her abdomen is where the famous red spot resides and warns. The male black widow is supposedly smaller than the female, with a tummy only displaying a gray marking or perhaps no marking at all. While living in Northern California for over twenty years, I had met a few Black Widows.

Once, I became the Black Widows’ hunter of a playground while being a teacher-aide in a Marin preschool. Each morning I had to go spider hunting. I noticed that Black Widows seemed to like lodging within the outdoor sandbox of the preschool, under the wooden railings surrounding an area where small children really enjoyed playing.  

One Black Widow met me, face to face, when grabbing on the wooden stick I placed under her upside-down long legs. She was slow to move. The poisonous spider didn’t jump at me, to bite me. She simply stayed there, motionless and shy.  From what I read on the internet, most female Black Widows eat their partners, after mating. That’s where the labeling Black Widow comes from. A myth, some people are arguing.

We were in June. So most males were already dead, I said to myself trying to stay cool while searching for more poisonous spiders. There was a few, each hidden in sticky webs located far away from each other. Black Widows like solitude, I noted, and dark remote places.

“I’m calling an exterminator,” my boss finally exclaimed after I reported on my hunting quest.

I put the small black spider in a glass bowl, with a tied top, so she couldn’t escape. All children in the preschool had the chance to get a glimpse of the trapped spider, so they would know when to scream. Unfortunately, most children started screaming whenever they spotted a spider, any spider. I was running like a mad woman.

“That spider is not a Black Widow,” I reassured, over and over. “Let the spider go free now. Don’t step on it.”

Years later, while spending a night in Sonoma, I had another close encounter with a poisonous critter. My girlfriend and I were having dinner in an Italian restaurant, off the square of Sonoma. The evening was particularly hot. We ate outside, on a verdant patio. Small clothed tables were nicely arranged in the outdoor space, with green plants, fading lights, and Frank Sinatra singing smoothly in the background.

While eating our Italian pastas meantime drinking red and sparkling wines, my friend and I talked of the good all days, when we were sisters in law. Suddenly, my right ear heard the sound of a mosquito targeting one of my naked arms. I abruptly moved and felt a strong bite on my ankle. I forgot about the voracious mosquitoes out here, I thought. I must buy some bug repellent. 

“Wow,” I said to my girlfriend. “A mosquito just bit me on my ankle. That mosquito had very sharp teeth.”

“They like me too,” Diane retorted.

“Vinegar is supposed to be good for mosquito bites,” I replied. “To stop the itching.”

“I’ll have to try that.”

“I wonder why bites itch mostly at night,” I reflected out loud.

“Hum,” Diane said. “Good question.”

One day later, my ankle resembled a soccer ball, swollen and tender to the touch. I searched my medicine cabinet. I first put Tea Tree oil, then Spike Lavender oil on my ankle. At the time, I was already aware of Spike Lavender oil used to heal the painful sting of a yellow jacket. Why not for a bite? I had nothing to lose and no health insurance. The powerful antiseptic property of Tea Tree oil was also in my knowledge. Going to the E.R. was out of the question.

On the internet, I researched spider bites, Black Widows and other poisonous spiders. I further found several articles advising for the same remedies I had just used on my bite. Nights were especially hard as frequent burning itching-attacks interfered with my sleep. I couldn’t scratch as the bite site was too painful.

Following advices still found on the internet, I tied an icepack on my red and swollen ankle to numb the pain. I slept better that night, and by the following morning my ankle had returned to a normal size. Then, I could see two very red bloody marks close to each other and surrounded by a large halo colored in pink.

After a few days of holistic treatment, the site of my bite looked much better. The pink halo eventually faded. The two red marks slowly vanished. But still I wasn’t feeling myself. A sudden Northern California heat-wave made working even harder. I had no energy. One week passed, and one morning I could not stop yarning. Coffee didn’t help. By midday, I started developing a growing headache. I had to go home. I left my clients in a hurry.

“Go home,” Joann said. “It could be the flu.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “I have the chill too.”

While driving back to Novato I wondered if a stronger version of the flu had just struck me, or if I was possibly feeling the aftermath of a Black Widow bite. It doesn’t matter I thought, I’m still feeling ill and in pain.

 Before retiring to my bedroom, I swallowed a charcoal tablet. In bed I stayed for two days, feeling nauseated, while an icepack on the top of my head numbed violent shouting pains. My head was about to explode. The weather was warm but I felt cold.  

Two days later, I emerged from down-under. I felt weak from not eating. Jack took me to the Vichy Spring resort located near the small town of Ukiah. After a few minerals bubble baths in the open air, I felt revived.

Still, going back to work after a few days of rest I struggled with a lack of energy. I need to eat, I reflected. I am way too skinny. My clients were happy to see my return. They love my homemade vegetables soups, my salmon quiches and my super healthy and organic salads. One early night, as I prepared their evening meal, I explained to Al and his wife my sickness and symptoms.

“Are you sure it was a Black Widow,” Al asked. “Did you see the spider?”

“No,” I answered. “I didn’t see the spider. But the outdoor patio where I ate with my friend, while in Sonoma, let me believe it was a Black Widow that bit me. But maybe it was not.”

“My grandchildren are very interested in bugs right now. They just built a bug zoo,” Joann declared with a smile.

“Maybe your granddaughter Ella would draw a Black Widow spider for me,” I said. “She is so talented.”

“She would love that,” Joann acknowledged still smiling.

Back home that night, I opened my computer and started a new document. Spiders, spiders, go away, come again some other day. Online, I further learned that Black Widows like to feed on flies and even cockroaches. Yet, wasps feed on Back Widows, and birds eat bugs. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It seems Black Widows like to eat at the same time at night as humans do. Just like rain I must endure even though I know its great power, Black Widows play a special part in the vast realm of nature.




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