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June 20, 2010

On Being Stalked by Spiders

Allie-2-small  Allie Larkin lives in Rochester, New York, with her husband, Jeremy, their two German Shepherds, Argo and Stella, and a three-legged cat. She is the cofounder of TheGreenists.com, a site dedicated to helping readers take simple steps toward going green. STAY is her first novel.  www.allielarkinwrites.com

By Allie:

I have a hard time staying at my desk all day when I’m writing, so I like to rotate between workspaces: the couch in my office, the bed, the kitchen table, and my favorite reading chair.  When it’s nice out, I like to work on a lawn chair in the back yard.  The dogs play while I type, and despite the fact that the occasional gnat makes its way into my coffee, it’s usually a wonderful work spot.

 But last week, while working, the creepiest looking spider I have ever seen crawled up the arm of my chair.  It had fur!  It stared at me with its beady little eyes and my blood ran cold.  Not only can I never sit in that chair again, I think we’ll have to move.  Preferably to a place without spiders.  Or, at the very least to a place without spiders that have fur. 

 As a kid, I was a tomboy.  I spent a good deal of time up to my knees in mud, chasing snakes and trying to

Photo-13 (1)   get spiders to crawl on sticks so I could watch them better. Even in my adult life, I am not a stranger to the outdoors.  I hike, camp, backpack, and kayak whenever I get the chance.  But somewhere along the line, I turned into a complete and total wimp when it comes to all things creepy and crawly. 

 In my mind, I am rugged and fearless.   Spiders should fear me, not the other way around.  But in reality, the mere idea of spiders and snakes makes my skin crawl, and the sight of them produces a strange, high pitched scream in my throat that is the exact opposite of rugged and fearless.  It’s humiliating.  And, it’s completely involuntary. 

 Last summer, I found a snakeskin in our tool shed just as I saw a mouse scurry behind the wheelbarrow.  I screamed loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear me, and I was instantly done with our tool shed. I’ll open the door, but if I can’t grab what I need while standing in the doorway, it simply doesn’t exist to me anymore.  My legs will not move me past the door, no matter how hard I try to will them to.

 I know I’m not the only person who has a fear of spiders and snakes, but I’m wondering if it’s common for the fear to sneak up on a person the way it has for me.  Do you scream on sight when you see a spider?  Have you always been that way?

 Also, I’m in the market for a new lawn chair in a new yard in a new location that does not have any furry spiders.  Can I come hang out in your yard? 




Stay-cover-small  P.S. Please check out Allie's fantastic debut novel,STAY, one of the most endearing books I've read all year. (Just ask Deb Mundy - she'll swear to it.) 

---- Sarah S.


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Ah, Allie, you look too young to remember Harley's turn in "Arachnaphobia," in which spiders become a problem for some suburbanites, to say the least. I would not suggest the movie, if you are squeamish about spiders, unless by buying it, you help Harley by adding two cents to a royalty check.

Sarah also has an issue, with house centipedes.

For me, there was a reason why we had (and probably still have) an exterminator come in every month to sweep the family house. Not that that would help in the backyard, though.

Good luck if you find a place with no spiders, Allie. I once read that no matter where you are on earth you are no more than ten feet from a spider. I suspect that is not true in the middle of the ocean, but even then the little rascals hitch rides.

If it's any comfort, the snake was probably in the shed to eat the mice. They're beneficial that way. How's that for a silver lining?

Once I opened the lid to my washing machine, preparing to take the wet clothes to the dryer, and a garter snake fell out of the lid. I'm pretty sure they heard the scream in the next county. ;-)

Spiders I'm mostly okay with (furry would be tough.) Flying roaches I have a really hard time with. This might prevent me from ever living full time in Hawaii again, should the opportunity arise.

Spiders don't bother me too much, although, yeah, furry would make a difference. I'm not too bad with bugs in general - don't seek them out, but don't scream too much. One bug does completely squick me out - it's fairly new to the US, and started right here in Southeastern PA, hitching a ride from China. They're called stinkbugs, and they look prehistoric, and I hate them with a passion.


Snakes will send me screaming, no question. Karen, if one had fallen out of my washing machine lid, I would never do laundry again. Or sleep, since in my house, the washing machine is in a closet outside my bedroom door.

Nice to see you here, Allie. I'm a total sucker for any book with a dog on the cover, so, nice job. I'll be looking for Stay.

I think my oldest son is the secret God of Spiders. When he is in residence I have to fight my way through all the webs near the doors. We send him on Recon missions to move them, since he wont let us kill them. They do help with flies coming in through the doors but freak me out when there gets to be a lot of them.

Hi, Allie! I've done a pretty good job of out-growing my arachnophobia. When I was a kid (where, by kid, I mean in†o my early 20's), my sisters and I were petrified of spiders. For myself, I chalk this up to an overactive imagination that glommed onto a few movie images and a newspaper article about brown recluses. Anyway, we all agreed that a spider in the bedroom meant it was time to sleep elsewhere.

Somewhere along the line, as I began to spend more time outdoors, I began to fear spiders less and appreciate them more. Except for harvestmen/daddy-longlegs, which are clearly aliens bent on paralyzing us with sheer terror and turning us into their own slave race.

My faves are the big black and gold garden spiders with the amazing insect-attracting webs. The little furry guys, colloquially known as wolf spiders, I actually find kind of cute -- they're stalking predators rather than web-builders.

All that said, I did house sit once for a friend who had a "problem" with brown recluses and an aversion to pesticides. It's a wonder I survived living with that kind of fear for 3 weeks!

Love snakes and bats; I've never been afraid of either.

Ah, Allie . . . send me those snakes and spiders, but please, for the love of god, save me from rats. I once saw one saunter across the living room of my NYC loft and I threw a coffee cup (filled with coffee) at it. I missed. I swear to you, it laughed.

Also, I'm not fond of maggots.

Not a fan of spiders, but I can deal with them. When we were stationed in Panama, I killed one that had a body the size of silver dollar.

But sn#*%s, no thanks. I cannot look at them, look at pictures, nothing. I can't even manage the word. And I am sure that I am one of the dozen people in the US who has never seen any of the raiders of the Lost Ark movies.

The scariest bug that I ever encountered was the Potato bug or Japanese beetle. I was getting ready for a job interview and I spotted this huge bug crawling on the bed. It resembled a monster since it was contorting and ugly. My brother-in-law came to the rescue and disposed of it. That was over forty years ago and I still remember the horror of that monster.
Allie, your novel looks so great. I have it on my list to purchase this week.

Spiders. Listen to this. (Oh, and welcome, Allie!)

A friend of mine, really a lovely woman, has entertained her two kids (darling darling girls age 3 and 5) by taking ants, live ants, and throwing them into spider webs to watch the spiders wrap the ants in webbing.

NOw. First thought, this is grotesque and disgusting. And creepy.

Then she made me watch it. And it was fascinating and amazing.

If you look at it--and spiders in general--as cool science, maybe it makes them different.

How I feel about spiders? My brother CALLS me on the phone on April Fools Day, and in the midst of the conversation, yells: THERE'S A SPIDER ON YOU! I shriek. I fall for it every year.

Harley, that's hilarious. The rat. Hilarous.

Plus, for goodness sakes, you should know about Arachnophobia, right??

Too funny! I avoid basements at night on general principles . . .
Hank, you are too easy!! _Arachnophobia_ was a fun movie!
I usually catch spiders in a cup and take them outdoors. Mom always said if you kill a spider, it will rain, and Elizabeth Ellis' Grandmother Spider Story (on my CD with EE's permission) ends with an admonition to leave her alone in thanks for her sewing the earth and sky together.
My most dramatic encounter was with a huge Tennessee fishing spider in the shower in TN. I called in my friend for moral support, and herded the spider into a Rubbermaid container. I told the spider that if she wanted to stay alive, she should accept my help and get in the box, and she listened . . . my friend released her on the porch that overlooked the river. .
photo for the non-squeamish . (or Google images Tennessee fishing spider)

Kerry, in the West, wolf spiders are big (1.5", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider), dark brown, they are nest-builders not web-builders. And they jump. Is there anything scarier than a big, dark spider jumping!?!

Just as I was reading today's blog, I looked up and saw a spider hanging above my head. While it was largish, it also looked deadish and, luckily, Steve was standing there and could do the actual retrieving and disposing.

Allie, I hope that you have someone who does spider retrieval and disposal (I wrote it into Steve's and my [non-existent] contract). Welcome to TLC and thanks for this morning's reading.

Welcome Allie!

I was one of those odd little girls who liked snakes, used to play with garter snakes when I found them . . . I am not fond of spiders but not really scared of them either. I have always wanted to hold a tarantula.

I loathe the existence of earwigs. When I was a teenager my dad found an earwig nest in a tree in the back yard. He let my brother and I burn it to a crisp with a small blow torch! When he realized that the tree was actually dead as well, we burned it too.

The only bugs I have a problem with in my apartment are silverfish. But this is a 50 year old building and it is in good old damp Vancouver, so I keep the place really clean and use Borax to poison them.

Gaylin, I just realized I have not seen a silverfish in our 70-year old home in awhile. Maybe because I used borax last year, eh? I hope they're gone for good, because the millipedes get huge by eating them, and I detest seeing those nasty things in the house. We do have wolf spiders, usually in the basement, and they can scare the life out of you if you don't expect to see one.

Mary Eman, a Canadian friend also detests the S-word so much that she can't say the word, calls them "tubular animals". Creative avoidance.

Down on our farm, which is only 40 miles from our home in Cincinnati, we have black widow spiders, a new experience for me. They are exquisite, though, I must say, very glossy black with a scarlet hourglass on the back. I was terrified of them until Steve said they are most likely to be under rocks. Outside. Phwew, what a relief!

4 years ago I was in the garden picking cucumbers, I reached over to pick a cucumber and a snake slithered out. It was only two feet long, but it had a triangle shaped head and was as big around as a human arm. People all over town heard my scream. From then on when ever I'm picking cukes I always run a broom over the top of the vines to scare out any snakes. Turns out it was and eastern hognose and probably hunting toads.

Can't stand spiders; don't mind snakes--although I would probably feel differently about snakes if I ever saw one in my house. Spiders bother me. They seem very smart. And I have seen them jump. Jumping spiders = nightmares. I usually try a humane approach to removing spiders, mostly because I cringe for an hour after hearing the crunch of the big ones getting squashed. Fur on spiders increases the creepiness exponentially. Jumping furry spiders? Ewww to the 10th power.

Dogs--love dogs. Stay sounds great--read the excerpt, and I'm hooked. Thanks, Allie.

We have those spiders here in Sacramento, too. They are bold little guys, for sure.

By the way, it is estimated that in green, well planted areas of the U.S.A., there are an average of 50,000 spiders per acre. If you live in the average city, that drops to a mere 11,000 per acre.

Insectarium exhibit at the zoo proclaimed that not only do insects outnumber us, they also collectively outweigh us. . . there's a scary thought!

Tarantulas have fur,just sayin'.

I once had an encounter with a huge furry jumping spider. I was on a front porch with two girlfriends--we were maybe 12 years old.

"What's that?" one of us asked, pointing to a shadow on the stone above our friend's hair.

"What?" she said, turning to look.


Adults came running. The father lunged. The spider jumped--OFF the porch! Omg. Another day, I saw one jump over a two-foot railing from a standing start. It was little comfort to know it was trying to escape from terrified me.

Hi, Allie. :) Just you wait until Margaret gets here and tells you about mailing black widow spiders to James Ellroy, I think it was. (He asked for it. No, really, I mean he requested them.)

Allie, I'm grateful to not have had that particular fear creep up on me over time, but other unexpected ones did.
I can't see the spider quite well enough to identify it, but it sure looks like a small member of the tarantula family. The cool thing about tarantulas? For those whom have had them as pets, as I fortunately did with several friends in teen years, you realize they are generally friendly. Had you sat still and allowed it, the curious little guy most likely would have crawled up to explore your hand and arm. IF you ever want to allow this, just don't make any sudden moves. They tend to only bite when they're suddenly frightened.
Karen: black widows like any sort of dark place that doesn't often get disturbed. Thus, any unused closet or dusty corner of the basement or garage is as likely to be home to one as under rocks or between fenceposts and walls. I found one unusually bold one in the center opening of a concrete brick on our driveway a couple of years ago--a real anomaly, in broad daylight, very puzzling. The tiny golden black widow babies are apparently not good to mess with, although whether they're as poisonous as their parents, I don't know. I've never seen a black widow jump, or I might have serious problems sleeping.

Jumping spiders. Not good. (I'd kind of like to see one, though. Through a window, maybe.)

I don't like to kill things, either..My husband and I have a running feud because when I see an ant inside, I put it on cardboard, and carry it outside.

I always think about the ant writing the book about that incredible adventure, stuff of ant legend. (I can confess that here.)

YOu know? A HUGE ogre picked me up on a flat white vehicle, and I FLEW through a massive opening back into ant world, and I was saved. Sort of an ant odyssey.

Never mind. I just think about it sometimes.

Spiders completely freak me out, no matter what shape or size!

Watch the movie, Charlotte's Web. Perhaps it will help you consider looking at spiders in a different way.

Thank you so much for all of your warm welcomes!!!

Josh - Oh centipedes!! They freak me out too! I remember the seeing the trailer for Arachnaphobia on TV as a kid. It makes me shiver just to think about it!

Oh, Karen! The thought that the snake was going after the mice actually does make things a lot better! But I completely agree with Laura - a snake in my washing machine would totally be the end of my already challenged laundry career.

Cornelia - Flying roaches? I think I'm cured of wanting to move to Hawaii!

Leslie - Was your son by any chance bit by a radioactive spider? :)

Kerry - It's so funny, Daddy Long-Legs spiders are the only ones I'm not afraid of.

Harley - What a jerky rat! They totally do mock us, don't they? Also, I wonder if anyone is a fan of maggots. . .

Mary - Seriously? The spider was that big? I'm not sure I'd ever be okay again!

Hank - That is hysterical!!! I would totally fall for the same thing too. Even if I were expecting it, I'd still have to look for the spider. Also, I really like the idea of your ant book. :)

Storyteller Mary - I really shouldn't have clicked on the link! I am so not okay after seeing that picture!!! And really? Outweigh us? Really? Yikes!

Holly - I do try to retrieve and relocate them when they're in in the house. For the most part, it's easier for me to deal with trapping them in a glass than squishing them. Squishing them just makes the whole experience worse.

Gaylin - Borax does the trick? That's awesome!!!

Karen - Tubular animals! Love it!!!!

Peach - I love the broom method! I'm going to start doing that when I pick strawberries in the garden! That's so smart!

Bea - I'm glad you understand me - the fur is totally worse! As is jumping! And so glad to hear that you enjoyed the excerpt!

Doc - That is the best advertisement for cities I have ever heard. :)

Nancy - He actually asked to have a black widow mailed to him? My brain can't comprehend that!

Laraine - I was wondering what kind of spider that was. He had a very strange build - big body, tiny legs. Maybe I need to try to find someone who has a tarantula and can tolerate listening to me scream like a crazy person while I try to get over my fear.

Liz - Same here - Small spiders bug me almost as much as the big ones.

Edie- I think you're right - maybe I should give it another viewing. I haven't seen it since I was a kid.

Marie! I have a long memory for bug trauma too! Glad your BIL was there to come to the rescue! Hope you enjoy STAY!

The anti-silverfish killing method is
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 cup borax

they come to eat the icing sugar and die from the borax

do not leave anywhere that household pets can get to, the borax will poison them as well. Brush down the back of the cupboard under kitchen/bathroom sinks to have it work best.

And a bug that really really bugs me - Moths. Augh, runs away screaming!

Allie, if you see it again, take a photo and I'll send it to Charles, who identified the fishing spider from my description.
(WARNING for squeamish -- might not want to read further . . . .)

"Biggest spider I ever saw, brown, fuzzy . . ."
It was as big as my hand, which was good, actually, as I had already taken off my glasses, and I'm somewhere past 20/600. I wouldn't have seen a smaller one fall into the shower when I yanked the towel away from the water . . . . pleasant dreams -- ah, ha, ha . . . .

Like so many of you, I, too, trap all spiders in the house and take them back outside if they're running around on the floor (I slap a clear plastic drink cup over them, then slide a stiff piece of paper between floor and cup, invert, and off we go). Those that make webs high on the ceilings get vacuumed. And I, too, love the gold and yellow argiope (common "writing spider") and have been known to enthrall small children by tangling a cricket or grasshopper in the web so they can watch her wrap it up. But Nancy was wrong. It wasn't James Elroy that I mailed black widow egg sacs to, it was Andrew Vachss. (And they hatched on the way.)

Margaret, you mailed LIVE spider eggs to Andrew Vachss? I assumed when I first read about it that they were just spider carcasses! What did he want them for?

Storyteller Mary - I really should have heeded your warning! The photo in the post is the spider that stopped by on my lawn chair. But It's just a cell phone picture, so it might be hard to identify from.

Gaylin - Thank you so much for the recipe! That's brilliant! I am not a big fan of moths either.

I often let out a little scream and sometimes jump when I come across a good sized spider or a snake somewhere where they shouldn't be or I'm not expecting them. I work for a herpetologist so you'd think I'd be use to creepy crawly things but no it still catches me off guard. I even sometimes jump when something in a tank jumps at me when I'm just walking by. Even when I know an "attack" is coming I can't help but jump and even sometimes scream. The fright for me is over in a second once I "calm" and then I go about what I was doing and almost always laugh at myself for not being able to control my reaction.

Allie, Andrew said he used to raise them as a kid, so when I asked him if he wanted some more and he said yes, I put a couple of egg sacs in a clear plastic specimen box and taped it shut. (I'm not completely irresponsible!) By the time they got to NYC though, they had hatched. You know, I'm still not sure what he did with them.

i have an complete irrational fear of spiders. If one ever was on me i'd probably vomit and cry. Nothing else bothers me. I'm going to work at a strawberry farm Sunday and sh**ting myself ill have an encounter with one. :...(

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