Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When a Spider is not a Spider

My childhood best friend's family had several acres of fields and woods behind their home. We spent a great deal of time riding our bikes there, fighting monsters (I swear they were real), and exploring. Many great things came out of this magical time with one possible exception: a sudden case of arachnophobia that came on as strongly and steadfast as spider's silk. Before that, I wasn't exactly fond of spiders but I certainly didn't have such an adverse reaction to them. Like millions of people around the world, an ancient distrust of eight legged creatures sprang to life in my psyche that seemed to be unshakable.

It happened like this:

One normal afternoon my friend and I –both around 10 years old at the time– were in the woods hunting down a large white gorilla that had somehow managed to find its way South Carolina. We began to follow a meandering creek deep into the forest when suddenly, we noticed the top of the great ape's head barely peaking up over the side of an overturned tree. In an instance, adrenaline began to course through our veins and decided that perhaps that day was not the best one to confront the beast. Abandoning our swords and our courage, we ran madly towards the safety of home. I'm sure that I could hear the pounding footfalls and ape's manic breathing getting closer and closer by the second. Then, in the event that would change my life for several years, I ran through what seemed like an endless series of spider-webs. My head became incased in what I perceived to be a writhing mass of spiders and in a flash, all simian threats were suddenly forgotten.

For several years, my imagination began to grow around this event –like an oyster with its pearl– but this was not a thing of beauty but rather a dark distortion of what had actually occurred. I found myself held-captive by an unwarranted fear of spiders.

Those of you who have followed this blog for some time now may be surprised to learn about this little admission (the arachnaphobia not the gorilla, of course) considering all of the invertebrate photos that I've posted over the months. Well, I can freely admit to this phobia now because I decided several years ago I was tired of such a pointless fear when truly scary creatures, like politicians (politicophobia) were on the loose in large numbers. So I kicked it for good. How did I do this? By 1.) Dissecting the fear and getting to the root of what is was really about 2.) Realizing that it was based on ignorance and irrational behavior 3.) Reading about and observing spiders in the field. 4.) Acknowledging that if I was ever going to become a nature photographer of any caliber, arachnophobia could not be on my resume'.

As it turns out spiders are absolutely amazing animals. I am especially fond of the Salticides, or jumping spiders. I must admit that I do sometimes get a little edgy with larger species like brown fishing spiders but at the same time, I find myself absolutely fascinated by them. Recently, I have become entranced by the Mygalamorph species found in Southeastern, U.S. and plan on photographing more of them next spring.

So many people today are afraid of nature in general without any justifiable reason for their fear –other than perhaps seeing warped tales on television. After experiencing this fear first-hand, I know how difficult it can be to conquer.

At one point in humanity's history, these strong evasive feelings likely served the greater purpose of survival. However, most of you who are reading this piece today are so far removed from any sort of natural danger that the time has come to let these worries go. Once all of the wild creatures in the world have been eliminated because of blind misunderstanding, we'll only have one another to deal with and that will truly be something to fear. As it sadly appears, we are already well on our way of taking care of that threat as well.

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