Fast forward to age 11. I’m diligently picking wild blackberries that I will peddle to neighbors around the lake in my attempt to earn enough to buy a horse. I have almost enough money, after a long year of cutting lawns, babysitting, and picking berries, so I’m off in another world, daydreaming about my lovely horse, when a cautionary voice whispered in my mind, “Look up.” I did, and inches from my face was the hugest, fiercest-looking yellow garden spider in God’s creation. Had I taken another step, he’d have been smack-dab in my face. My bloodcurdling screech was probably heard around the lake (the nearest neighbor, in fact, came running); berries flew in all directions. Ever since then, just looking at a garden spider makes me shake and the hair on my arms stand on end.
Yellow garden spider
I am an arachnophobiac; a mostly recovered one but an arachnophobiac nevertheless. And I am not alone. According to a study conducted by Alexandra L. Wagener and Robert D. Zettle of Wichita State University, “One of the more prevalent forms of small animal phobia in Western societies involves fear of spiders, with as many as 55% of females and 18% of males estimated to experience arachnophobia.”
Years passed, and gradually, I made my peace with the eight-legged clan. It’s hard to spend time in barns, woods, and meadows when you’re deathly afraid of spiders. But two kinds still terrified me: hairy ones (especially hairy spiders that jump) and yellow garden spiders.
So I was horrified to discover that the southern Ozarks are home to tarantulas. The Oklahoma brown tarantula, to be exact. Knowing I had to do something to cope, I got online before we left Minnesota and learned all I could about tarantulas (knowledge is power). I surfed pet-spider sites (tarantulas seem to be favorite pets among spider enthusiasts) and joined a spider list at YahooGroups, where the other members assured me I had nothing to fear: tarantulas don’t jump, they’re very fragile, they don’t attack, their bite feels like a bumblebee sting, and unless they feel threatened tarantulas move at a leisurely pace. And the spider people were right. Except for their size, the local tarantulas don’t bother me much at all. They lumber along, and I keep my distance. It’s a shaky peace, but peace.
Yellow garden spiders and their orb-weaving kin are another story. This time of year they grow to immense proportions and live in exactly the type of places I like to be. Hiking through the woods, watch out! There’s a spider (shiver). Strolling through the garden picking tomatoes; watch where you’re reaching every time. And turn on a flashlight when checking sheep at night to avoid orb-weaver webs stretched from tree limbs to ground. Yikes, they’re everywhere! So this year I’ve set out to duplicate my tarantula experiment and learn all I can about garden spiders. Stay tuned, and I’ll share what I learn with you.
Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including the Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, the Appaloosa News, the Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and the Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.