Big, honkin' spiders and the day I met Ralph


"You wouldn't believe the size," my partner, the Lady Marjorie, exclaimed in a voice dripping with disgust, "of the monster spider I just found under the clothes hamper."
"I thought that's why we kept you men around -- to handle the creepy-crawly stuff. I mean, that sucker must have been as big around as a 50-cent piece. I hate those things."
Spiders. Just the word elicits visions of either some bad, soon-to-be-a-midnight-TV horror movie or something that has come spewing out of the computer of someone like author Steven King.
Right now, at the beginning of spring/summer, it seems like spiders are all over the place. You can hardly venture out into the garden without running into their webs, and if you look carefully in the early dawn, their dewy nests glisten like crystal doilies against the evergreens.
A month or so ago, an "itsy-bitsy spider" started spinning a web outside our second-story bathroom window. It was interesting to check its progress each day and watch as it completed the web and then trapped no-see-ums and other little insects.
I was surprised at how fast the "itsy-bitsy-spider" soon had turned into a quarter-sized predator that kept enlarging its web until it was soon the size of a large dinner plate. One day, we had a heavy spring rainstorm and the web was destroyed. I never saw that spider again, but in its place, another "itsy-bitsy spider," probably offspring, was soon spinning another web.
Your basic, generic-variety, garden spider, that we have to deal with here in the Northwest, or the type of simple spiders I had to deal with earlier when I was living in Michigan, didn't begin to approach the fear factors generated by the Black Widow spiders and the Tarantulas of my youth in southern California.
We lived on what were the outskirts of Los Angeles, and our backyard ended where the orange groves literally began. The barren foothills of the San Gabriel mountains were only blocks away, an inviting playground to be explored when you were only 7 years old.
"You kids have to learn about Black Widows," I remember my mother beginning her lecture one day. "They're a shiny black spider with an orange hourglass pattern on their stomachs. Don't try to turn them over though, just squash any black spiders you see. Their poison won't kill you, but it will make you really sick for a few days. So be sure if you leave your shoes out in the garage overnight, to pound them on the heel to knock out any spiders that might have crawled into them.
After Mom's little speech, we went searching for this poisonous monster that inhabited our new home. We were shocked to realize that virtually every spider we could find was a Black Widow. The Tarantulas were a lot more rare; I only remember seeing two, in the wild, the whole 10 years I lived there.
We moved to Michigan when my father was transferred yet again by his job, and I was reduced to telling scary spider stories at Halloween or around camp fires.
"Sandy, have you got a fly-swatter?" I asked on day when we were all gathered in a friend's old Michigan farmhouse preparing one of our traditional monthly feasts. "I seem to have just let a fly in the door with me."
"Don't worry," Sandy replied, "Ralph will get him."
"Ralph, my kitchen spider," Sandy grinned. "Hey, it's my green, organic method of pest control in here. He's been around for a while now, doesn't bother anybody and has a web over in the plants on the window sill that will eventually ensnare the fly. I haven't seen Ralph though today; maybe one of the cats got him.
Later that evening, after we had all sat down for dinner at the table, I became aware that something in my salad was moving. Ralph crawled out from under a lettuce leaf attempting to shake the creamy Roquefort off of his eight legs.
"Uhhh, I think I found Ralph," I said.
Sandy gathered him up and quickly washed him off and returned him to his web. That little episode though, as they say, tended to put me right off my feed. I wonder if now I'm arachnophobic?[[In-content Ad]]