Sunday, May 11, 2008


Yesterday around 5:00 I was on my bed, watching This Old House, while Dinah (my cat) was at her perch by the window, watching me. I glanced over at her and saw behind her, on the outside glass of my window, a rather large tarantula making its way down to the shelves on my patio where I have camping gear, including an old pair of hiking boots my mother bought for me when I moved to the lesbian land collective in Colorado.

I yelled and pointed. Dinah, in the way of cats, did not "Look!" as I commanded, but instead trotted over to me and sniffed the end of my finger. The tarantula disappeared from view. My worst fear is that the hiking boots are her secret abode.

I said to Dinah "You just missed what would have completely rocked your world." She moved over close to the treat canister on my headboard, suggesting there were other more immediate ways to rock her world. We selected a salmon bit shaped like a heart and I went on with TV.

Around 10:00, I had an ovarian cyst rupture while sitting at my computer. This was a bad one, and I pushed myself through the agony back to bed, where for ten minutes I struggled not to pass out. After another half hour, I moved enough to take half a pain pill (my last in the bottle) and watched something I can't remember until the pill kicked in and I went to sleep.

The next thing I knew, it was daylight again and Dinah was having what I can only describe as gibbering hysterics in the living room. I immediately wondered if the tarantula had somehow gotten into my apartment. But then I realized I could also hear her frantically scrabbling at the glass of the window, which indicated she was separated from the prey of her dreams. Meaning I was, too.

She's been jumpy ever since, checking out every crevice and shadow, swatting and sniffing. She keeps migrating between me and the window, whichever room I'm in. My right ovary is markedly tender but I can walk and sit again.

I'm not particularly arachnophobic. This is despite the movie Tarantula, made the year I was born and filmed in the kinds of landscapes we often lived when I was a child. It scared the galloping grims out of me when I saw it on our black and white as a kid, and that monster returned to haunt my nightmares the year I was 25 and coming out as an incest survivor.

However, tarantulas were something we saw often in West and South Texas, and we sometimes played with them as children -- cautiously, because they were prone to jumping at you when aggravated and also because they are really rather fragile. Mama kept telling us that the Texas variety, which is nonpoisonous (though the bite does hurt like the dickens), could not be easily differentiated from the Mexico variety, which does pack venom. In the way of kids, we just assumed we could keep from getting bitten. (A faith we didn't lose through countless scorpion stings, my black widow incident, and numerous other chomps until my little brother Bill came within minutes of dying from a rattlesnake bite when he was eleven; after that, we exercised caution.)

I have held tarantulas in my palm and think I would like one as a pet except I could not bear to keep it in a glass cage, knowing what kinds of roamers they are. They are hunting spiders, not web-spinners. I don't know if my patio visitor has lived there for a while, if it's mating season, or even what markings it has (it was silhouetted and backlit on the window.) I'll keep mum about her. People get so rattled by large spiders. (Well, and cats, apparently.)

I do remember being terrified by a non-cinematic spider once. I was four or five years old, and we were not long back from India, living in Lafayette, Louisiana. At the edge of our front yard was a small ditch, and I was sitting on the slope there, in the grass, thinking something over. I had been still a long time, and my head was resting on my knee such that I happened to be staring at a patch of grass beside me.

Suddenly, a small, roundish patch of grassy round flipped open, revealing a web-choked tunnel and a large spider in the entrance. I screamed, but was too frightened to move. Delicately, the spider reached out one leg and hooked it onto the back of her trapdoor -- the back was also covered with web, and the front was simply grass and dirt particles coating the web, I could now see. She pulled her hatch shut again. I was able to stand, then, and run in horror to my mother. She helped me look up trapdoor spiders in the encyclopedia, and told me the creature was no doubt as unpleasantly surprised to find me sitting there as I had been at her emergence. I thought Mama was full of crap: Finding out that under my feet (and ass) were hidden tunnels lined with spiders was definitely the worst.

Below is a sequence of photos showing a trapdoor closed, then opened by the photographer, and the spider coming to shut it again. (Taken from a page about California Trapdoor Spiders.)


letsdance said...

Scream !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

shadocat said...

Crap, Maggie, I just started getting caught up with your blog AFTER I e-mailed you----you must think I'm the most insensitive lout on the planet; "I hope all is well with you", etc. If anyone knows how painful an ovarian cyst can be, it is I---I've had several, including one described "as big as a soccer ball". Cysts AND tarantulas---Ai ya! All my sympathy, and I'll light my Guadelupe candle tonight in your honor, hoping you feel better. Sorry I was such a clod.

Maggie Jochild said...

The idea of an ovarian cyst as big as a soccer ball makes ME wanna go SCREAM!!!!

No worries, Shado, I assumed you were reading on your own timetable, I didn't even notice. But I'll welcome the Guadalupe candle, she's my fave.

Dinah gave me another near heart attack not long after I put up this post. She was at her window post, and another cat -- I'm guessing maybe after the tarantula -- came not just onto the patio but over to the window. Dinah began screaming her head off, as if she were being disemboweled, flinging herself at the window. I heard the other cat yell a few times. When I was finally able to get Dinah to come over to me, she had pissed a little on her back legs, all of her fur was standing up, and she kept making freaky little rumbles in her throat. She is truly twisting in the wind right now. It may be a long night.

If I knew someone in town who could make a two-yards-across spiderish thing and would drive over in the dark to dangle it outside my window...But no, it would kill her outright.

We had a neighbor once who took afternoon naps. My mother walked over to visit one day and caught her two little boys in her bedroom with a mayonnaise jar full of tarantula, about to release them onto her pillow as Pat was asleep.

Maggie Jochild said...

P.S. Jan, that cat in your icon photo looks a LOT like Beebo when he grew up!

Jesse Wendel said...

Tarantulas are fun.

Back in the day, my best buddy and I would find them and sneak them in to Sunday School in our my jacket pockets. Then once we broke into our small group age-appropriate sessions, let them crawl out and up our arms. About the time it'd get up to our shoulders the teacher would see them and SCREAM.

Good times.

kat said...

eeeeewwwwwbbbbblllleeeecccchhhhh!!!!! about the spiders that is. I'm beyond creeped out!!

I hope you're feeling better Maggie.