Every night for the past few weeks here at Goose Hill, a spider (huge by single woman estimations) crawled out from under our TV stand while we watched a show or read. These were, as best as we can figure, brown grass spiders. We also found them on the wall by the closet, outside my bathroom door, and crawling across the floor in my bedroom.
Each time Laura pounced on them with her bug zapper—a battery-operated fly swatter that looks like a tennis racket and sizzles and hisses and snaps when spider meets swatter. The spiders shrivel up, their life leaving in tiny little sparks of light set off from the mild electric current.
Laura calls it “castle law”—a spider intrudes into our house, she has the right to kill it.*
I never stop her from zapping them because, quite frankly, I’ve heard enough about the volume of spiders that supposedly crawl in my mouth while I sleep. And also I don’t want to get bitten in the middle of the night when I walk to the bathroom.
It’s just a spider, but it still is life.
But I also don’t wish them all dead.** I’m willing to share my world with them, to be grateful for the benefits they offer, to appreciate our differences—to choose to not see them as villains but misunderstood fellow inhabitants whom culture and instinct have programmed us to fear.***
But these spider visits remind me, of course, of Charlotte with all her wisdom and grace, and also bring to mind two poems that encapsulate how I feel about killing creatures in general.
I hope you’ll enjoy these and maybe, the next time you kill a spider, you might not take quite so much pleasure in the smack and smear. It’s just a spider, but it still is life.
Remember, even spiders have their place and purpose—just maybe not in the house.
By Nikki Giovanni
I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her
I don’t think
To kill something
Because I am
There is. . .a reward for not loving the death of ugly. . .creatures.
Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy
By Thomas Lux
For some semitropical reason
when the rains fall
relentlessly they fall
into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long
and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,
a reward for not loving
the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,
rats) creatures, if
you believe these things, then
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.
And in the morning
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors
and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,
as individuals, would not turn up
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld
of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dreams—
they may tell the others
in a sign language
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s
that you are good,
that you love them,
that you would save them again.
*Castle Law “is a legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode . . . as a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting him or her . . . to use force . . . to defend himself or herself against an intruder, free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force used.”
**According to a Washington Post article, “Scientists have identified almost 45,000 different spider species.” If spiders wanted to take over the world, we wouldn’t stand a chance. Good thing that most of them are big ol’ scaredy “arachs.”
*Spiders are most useful for eating pestilent insects which would otherwise wipe out food crops (and also the rose bush in your front yard.) The Washington Post article reports, “A 1990 study found 614 species of spiders in U.S. croplands, representing 19 percent of the spider species in North America.”
But perhaps some of spiders’ most important contributions to our big old ecosystem we don’t even know about. Scientists are constantly studying spider venom for medical purposes such as for pain control medicines and curing muscular dystrophy. Spider silk compounds are also being researched for potential use in metal material for mechanics. We just never know in what ways these creatures might teach us to be better people.