My reaction to spiders used to be extreme and, apparently, hilarious to watch. Hilarious meaning involuntary and frenzied flailing, screeching, and cartoonish retreat. I would not say that I had arachnophobia, but spiders unsettled me, deeply. Enter Teresa Tarantella. I did some initial research and found out that she was a common house spider, smallish, who lived in our sunny little over-the-sink kitchen window. Something about her didn’t seem that terrifying. Yes, she made my skin crawl but I decided to sally forth unto the intarwebs (webs, get it?) and do some intensive research. Turns out our tiny Teresa was an unmitigated boon to our household. Her primary food sources were things far worse than an itsy-bitsy spider: aphids, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, gnats, ants. . .an impressive (grody) list. I also learned spiders can live far longer than I realized, and have so many remarkable adaptations which allow them to do this. The more I studied Teresa and her ilk, the more my perceptions changed. I remember how much I loved E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web as a child. I recalled hearing about how spiders have been noted by many people throughout time as representing interconnectedness, synchronicity and creative energy–all big good things.
With increased knowledge and understanding, my fear of spiders was supplanted by curiosity and respect. I went from full on shrieking no-no-no to to, hey lil’ jumping spider, why you on my arm? That’s not to say a skittery, long-legged funnel weaver or giant wolf spider won’t give me the shudders. Or that I am not careful in looking for brown recluses (which are common in my part of the country), in checking boots and winter coats for uninvited guests and not cognizant of venom or other risks. But seeing the occasional in-home arachnid stopped bothering me, and I welcomed the ones out in the garden. I was sad when winter came and I didn’t any longer see Teresa Tarantella. I actually missed her. Since then, we’ve had (outdoor, thankfully) funnel weavers, tree spiders and common garden spiders spinning their webs outside that same window. I remember things about them–how fast funnel weavers are as ambush predators, the bizarre qualities of spider silks and venom and how these things still fascinate scientists, the many different shapes and colors and types of spiders I saw throughout the warm months. I’m going to try to take Teresa’s lesson to heart in the coming years–study what I fear. Learn about it. Understand why it frightens me. Sometimes, be wise enough to retain the fear. Other times, let myself find that something truly is not what it seems. So, thank you Teresa. . .”you have been my friend,” to quote Charlotte’s Web. May your little spider-heaven be chock full of sunny windowsills and yummy-yummy gnats.