Courage: Tracking Diaries #9
I stare at the spider hanging in front of my face. It is huge, blue and black and yellow, hanging from a golden web longer than my bicycle and better constructed than my house.
It stares back at me.
The problem with getting into a staring contest with a spider is that it has four times as many eyes and none of them need to blink.
We have to get the circumference of this tree. Our newest Urban Sloth, Luiza, has made it her home for the last two days and we need data about her habitat. I am armed with a length of measuring tape and the surefire knowledge that my boss is watching and will very definitely not be amused if I chicken out now; if she has to wade through the mess of spider webs there will be swear words, the use of machetes, and possibly even sarcasm.
To be clear, I don’t have a particular problem with spiders. When I was a small child my mother tried in vain to keep me away from them, and finally had to settle for educating me about which ones were venomous (success! The arachnid in question is a golden orb spider, non-venomous) and then hoping I made good choices…I now live in a termite-ridden shack at the edge of the world and track sloths for a living, so the jury is still out on that one.
I am not so sanguine about all creepy-crawlies. Ants, for example, give me the screaming horrors. One of my top five worst jungle memories is when the army ants came for me while I was housesitting for some friends. I would have run off into the sea if I could have, but I wouldn’t abandon the pets to a fate clearly worse than death, and so instead spent the next five hours desperately defending a small circle in the middle of the floor with a broom–which was not my weapon of choice, but needs must, as they say, when you can’t get ahold of a flamethrower.
(The dog and cat—jungle veterans both—slept through the entire episode, which gives you a bit of an idea who was the one overreacting.)
The nice thing about spiders is that, unlike ants, they don’t come in swarms. Usually. The spider in front of me hasn’t heard that she’s supposed to be a solo creature, and a dozen other webs ring Luiza’s tree, making a gauzy golden curtain of the buttressed roots. The silk of the Nephila genus is one of the strongest known natural materials, with potential applications ranging from ethically harvested silk to tissue engineering, but right now it’s mostly serving as a sloth-tracker repellent. I’m fine with one spider, but a dozen of them, each one bigger than my hand, are a bit much even for me.
“How’s it going over there?” Amelia calls from the safety of the other side of the tree, where she is anchoring one end of the measuring tape.
“Uhh,” I call back. “Almost got it.”
I have an idea.
I pick up a stick, wrap the measuring tape around the end of it, and try to carefully pass it through the webs. It’s a bit like one of those games you’d play as a kid that is supposed to teach you fine motor skills or something, though at my age I think I’m supposed to have learned that already. Needless to say, I get the tape stuck on one of the webs, try to pull it free, disturb the webs (which sets off a chain reaction of vibrations to every connected web), and oh shoot oh shoot oh shoot the spiders are all moving! I take a hasty step back—right into a nest of ants.
If my step away from the spiders is hasty, my launch away from the ants’ nest is a strong candidate for warp speed. I stifle a shriek as my legs take it upon themselves to propel me forward without any input from my brain, which, if it had been consulted, would have said: “Watch out you dummies, there’s a giant mess of spiderwebs right in front of you!”
The spiders were probably as scared as I was because they all ran away, and I came out the other side covered in a fine film of golden web strands, and—most importantly—still clutching the measuring tape.
“Wow!” says Amelia, as she pulls the tape tight around the tree trunk. “You just went right through those webs. Weren’t you scared of all the spiders?”
“A little,” I admit. But sometimes the only way through fear is forward…
…and away from the ants.
***No spiders were harmed during the making of this Tracking Diaries. All webs were regenerated in less than 24 hours and ready to trap future sloth trackers.***