Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Yesterday, as I was eating lunch, a spider started building a web between the bench I was sitting on, and my head. At first I didn't notice at all--the spider had anchored one end of his web in my hair, behind my right ear, and I couldn't see it out of my peripheral vision. I did notice, sort of subconsciously, a very minor sensation on my right cheek once or twice, when the breeze blew and web tendrils dragged across my skin. Finally, with a larger gust, the spider's web bowed into the edge of my vision, and I saw the gossamer shine in the sun. It still didn't occupy a lot of my attention, I just sort of brushed it away. Then I felt something crawling on my neck. I batted at that with my hand, and caught a glimpse of the spider crawling along my upper arm, seeking shelter in the folds of my jacket. The spider started toward my face, and since I didn't want to risk a bite, I flicked it off of me. The wind blew again while the spider was airborn, and carried it a good seven or eight feet away. I saw it land on the bricks off to my right, a tiny little speck on the red.

The spider didn't move for a few moments, and I got up to look at it, hoping I hadn't hurt it. When I got near, I actually saw it lift its head to look up at me. It was such a tiny little thing--probably less than a half centimeter long--that the idea of it regarding me--so massive in comparison--made me wonder about the spider's thoughts. How would it's brain grapple with being confronted by another living thing so immense? What would go through my mind if I were face to face with some living thing as much larger than myself as I was to the spider? Is there even anything alive on earth that could match that scale?

The spider started crawling in little circles, as if to get his bearings. All his legs seemed to work fine, though he dragged his abdomen in a way that didn't seem very spider-like to me. He was an example of the type of spider we called "Jumping Wolfs" when I was a kid, and looked sort of like a very very tiny tarantula, his body stocky and hairy, his legs thick and blunt. I saw him lift his head to look at me a few more times as he circled his landing spot.

I went back to the bench and sat down. The spider seemed to watch me as I left, but I didn't really feel confident that he could see me at any distance. If you're that tiny, wouldn't your eyes also be set up for seeing things on a smaller scale?

But, as I continued to eat my lunch, the spider continued to walk toward me. Remember that I said the thing was only a half a centimeter long, so seven feet was comparatively a massive distance. It kept on toward me, stopping every now and then, veering slightly to the left or the right as it walked, but showing remarkable orienting abilities.

When the spider got within twenty inches of my feet, he changed his walk. Where before he had crawled along six inches at a time or so, then seemed to rest and re-orient, now he began stopping every inch, stopping stock still for a millisecond, and then moving again. The stops seemed to happen at random points in his gait, so that different legs would sometimes be caught in the air, and he changed from moving to still so completely with each stop that it looked like nothing any human could do. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to watching a film in which every tenth frame has been tripled, so that the image in the tenth frame freezes for just a flash.

Eventually, the spider crawled right between my feet, lifted his head again, and looked at me.

The thing was too tiny for me to feel frightened, so none of the experience struck me as creepy, but it certainly was uncanny. My emotional mind toyed with the idea that the spider wanted my company, even my camaraderie. Another part of my mind wondered if the thing had left an egg-sac on me, and wanted to return to its young. In either case, it seemed too unerring in its path to have arrived back at my feet by coincidence.

By this time my lunch hour was nearly over--the spider's walk had taken nearly twenty minutes--so I left the bench and went back to my office. Today, though, I've been thinking about returning to the bench, to see if the spider is still about. It seems impossible that he would be, and yet all of the experience yesterday seemed impossible, too.

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