Illustration by Mark Wilson
Even if they have three rows of eyes and eight legs
A bug crawled in my ear during a High Peaks family camping trip last summer. I had been asleep an hour, snug in my sleeping bag, my husband and I on either side of our kids. I awoke screaming as whatever it was—tunneling to escape an inhospitable burrow—shredded my eardrum.
Like the pain of childbirth, what that thing did to me—imagine repeatedly stabbing your eardrum with a needle—has become a hazy memory. But my husband tells me, rather, tells anyone who wants details (and they do, horrified, hanging on every word), that the attack lasted about 20 minutes. Blood and fluid trickled from my ear. For a while I lost my hearing and, later, part of my face went numb. There was a midnight ride to an emergency room, followed by, the next morning, another trip to another ER. And then, three days later, an appointment with an otolaryngologist, who finally had the tools to remove what turned out to be a scarab—slightly larger than a Japanese beetle—by then long dead, its body a dull, unremarkable brown.
A couple of weeks after that, I stayed up late reading, just a dim floor lamp beside me. Something caught my eye. I put my book down, walked to the part of the room where the kids often leave their toys, and reached for what appeared to be a gigantic plastic spider, its leg-span a bit larger than a salad plate. A plaything like that in my house isn’t unusual—my daughter likes rubber snakes and I often find them in her bed. Still, just as I was about to scoop it up, I confirmed to myself that the kids did not, in fact, have a toy spider. I took a closer look: it was a fishing or dock spider, an impossibly expansive striped-legged Dolomedes, sprawled on the carpet where we play Monopoly or have tea parties.
On a sunny morning soon after that, I grabbed my backpack, threw on a straw hat and started walking to work. I got 20 feet from my front door when, for whatever reason, I looked down at the black tank top I was wearing. There, clinging to my front, was a wolf spider—its hairy body about the size of a quarter. I even saw its shiny eyes and those curved pincers by its mouth. I did a spazzy freak-out, flinging my backpack and hat across the yard, then raced into the house, slamming the door behind me. I stood there wild and panting as I told my husband there had been a scary spider on my chest. He stared at me, then whispered, “It’s still there.”
Like a cat that, in a crowd, picks the dog-lover to rub up against, crawly things seemed to be attracted to me. There was, obviously, discord in my relationship with them.
Had I been disrespectful of resident invertebrates? Had there been too much squishing?
I’ve thought a lot about this since last summer’s “encounters.” So I’ve done my best to release, free of harm, those that have found their way into my little Jay farmhouse: ladybugs, crickets, box-elder bugs, moths, daddy-longlegs and other spiders. I’ve helped my kids rescue slugs from the sidewalk after hard rains. I’ve gingerly replaced the rocks my daughter flips after she inspects the scurrying world beneath. I’ve even spared an earwig lounging by our bathtub drain.
Most important, though, I’m reminded of the invisible world all around us, only made visible when our worlds collide. We share this place. At least that’s the message delivered right to my ear.