I thought you might like this little guy. He’s probably from the same collection as this fellow I mentioned here.
When I was a girl, I was in a special program at my school for gifted children. I never really felt particularly gifted; my math grades were deplorable and my handwriting was atrociously sloppy. In fact, I was always writing ‘sorry so sloppy’ on top of my papers, hoping that my apologetic note would mollify the inevitable points taken off for poor handwriting.
Most of my teachers were sympathetic to my eccentricities. One of the fifth grade teachers allowed me to do all of my work in her office with the door shut, because I didn’t like the noise of the classroom. I forget how I must have convinced her. If this were fiction, I might give myself a strong speech and a precocious, firm jutting chin. I would state my case and let my needs known articulately.
What probably happened was that I cried.
We had a science project once, where we were supposed to bring in nature studies from our backyard or neighborhood. I debated about bringing in some tent caterpillars since my backyard was filled with them. Sometimes when I was bored I’d take a stick and poke their silky nest and watch what appeared to be hundreds of them tumble out onto the grass. These were unexciting, and too brown and boring looking to impress the teacher and my classmates, so I kept looking in the backyard.
Underneath the deck, I found a spiderweb with an egg sac attached. The mother didn’t appear to be near, so I ran to the kitchen and found a small orange Tupperware container to put the sac in. I couldn’t find the lid, so I pulled some Saran Wrap and tape from a kitchen drawer and ran back underneath the deck and made sure the mother wasn’t back from hunting or hiding in shoes or scuttling across a kitchen floor or whatever it is that mother spiders do when they’re not in their webs. Using the Saran Wrap as a barrier from actually touching the egg sac, I held the Tupperware underneath the web, pushed the sac inside, then covered it all up with the plastic wrap. Crouching on my knees on the cool ground beneath the deck, I dug up bits of dirt with my hands to put inside the container, then crawled out to gather some grass, a small twig, and a clover to add to the habitat I’d created for the soon-to-be spider orphans.
I didn’t give a thought to whether these little guys would be poisonous once they emerged, or that I had just stolen babies from their rightful mother. What I cared about was having an awesome specimen to bring into class. Maybe I could prove just how gifted of a naturalist I could be, even if I wasn’t all that gifted in math or handwriting.
Once behind my closed bedroom door, I found a purple rubber band to secure the Saran Wrap to the container, and put the little terrarium outside my window in the flower box because I didn’t want to sleep with spiders in my room, even unborn ones. A year before the flower box had a mourning dove’s nest inside of it, and I remember wishing that the nest was still there so I could bring that in instead of the egg sac. Baby birds were much cuter than baby brown recluses or black widows, both of which were common in my East Tennessee backyard.
In the morning, I put the orange Tupperware habitat in my backpack carefully, and rode the bus to school. The container went inside my cubby, because we didn’t do science until after lunch. When it was time for all of us to bring out what we had found in nature, I felt really cocksure that I would have the best find. Unfortunately, my heart sank and my chest constricted (and I suddenly had to pee), when I saw what the other kids had brought.
One boy had brought in a tiny garter snake, curled around a stick and tucked inside of a Ked’s box. My friend Veena Patel had found a bird with a broken wing and one leg, and she had made a sort of makeshift nest out of kudzu and some of her mother’s colorful sari fabric for the bird to sit in while safely enclosed in a lidless plastic tub. One girl had found a whole batch of plants and flowers that are safely edible: clover, honeysuckle, and wild strawberries. She brought enough for everyone to have a sample, and had even written out little index cards with easy recipes for the wild food (I believe there were even carefully drawn, colorful illustrations on the cards as well, but that could be my imagination).
I felt like my little spiders were worthless. I had only pillaged a spider web and stolen the egg sac. I didn’t even take the time to make a proper home for the nest; the clover and grass had wilted and browned already.
When I looked down at the Saran Wrap cover, trying to bolster up my courage for when my turn came to share, I was horrified to find that the plastic wrap had come loose beneath the purple rubber band. What was worse: the tiny babies had hatched, and were spilling and crawling out of the small holes that I had cut in the Saran Wrap. At least twenty were already marching in a line on my desk, headed toward the floor. I raised my hand, choking back tears, and asked if I could share right now because the spiders are hatching and come look but they’re escaping!
My teacher gave out a little eep! Some of the girls said gross! and most of the boys said cool!
There were probably hundreds of them. I of course had no idea what kind of spider they were, or whether they were poisonous or not. Regardless, they were spilling onto the floor, into the classroom, ready to infest the entire fourth grade.
I covered up the hole as best I could with a piece of notebook paper, and started stomping on the little babies with my sneakered foot. The rest of the class followed suit, sending dozens of newborn arachnids to an early grave. As for the fate of the remainder of the young trapped inside the Tupperware, my teacher ended up freeing them all. She grabbed the container from my hands and ran out the door that led to the playground. We all watched out the classroom window (still stomping out the tiny spiders on the linoleum) as she shook out the grass and clover and the egg onto a grassy patch underneath a tree.
Once she returned, and had handed me back the empty container, we had all settled back into our seats (she was strict, and we were good at listening). The next student was up and sharing, and the teacher seemed grateful for the banality of the small bouquet of wildflowers that was presented. I felt smug knowing that only my project had stirred the room into an excited frenzy. Maybe I’d finally found my gift.