Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spider webs

The other day I was in the bathroom, getting out of the shower and ready for my day. I had just tackled an abnormally difficult swim, and could feel the ache already in my triceps and lats. The thought of stretching my triceps made me whimper, and even the act of bending over to feed our cat had my lats and back protesting. I could tell it was going to be a long day.

And then I dropped the towel. Literally.

Great, now I had to bend over again, only this time it was for my own good, not for the sake of our cat. My mistake. Sigh. If my body could speak, it would have been creaking and groaning. And all this from a swim, what's the deal? It's called overload, baby. And this is just part of it, so buck up! A few more weeks to go and you'll be done.

As I bent over to pick up the towel, I noticed a little bit of movement in the bathroom corner, right near the doorway and our cat water filter. (Quick note - no, you didn't read that incorrectly. We do have a cat water filter. Our stupid cat doesn't like to drink stationary water. She'll drink from faucets, taps, yes, even the toilet. But NOT a water bowl. So Nathaniel got the idea of getting her a water filter. See - he really does love the cat, but will never admit it. He'll just call her "Bozo" and shake his head in exasperation. And Tabbitha drinks to her little heart's content.) Anyway, movement of any kind by something that I'm not aware of, just doesn't sit well with me. Especially when that something has a "crunchy" exterior, IE and exoskeleton.

When we first moved to the South (North Carolina and now Florida), I was amazed at how big the bugs were. Not surprised, not baffled, but just plain amazed. And fearful. I didn't realize they came in those shapes OR sizes (being from Minnesota, where one cold night kills them all off). The first night Nathaniel and I stayed in our new apartment in North Carolina, he opened a window, and I screamed. What emerged was the biggest, absolutely grossest, largest, hairiest, fastest-moving, (did I mention gargantuan!) cockroach I have ever seen. It was terrifying. It crawled down the wall onto the bare floor, and made a bee-line towards me (as I was the only other thing in the room. Our furniture hadn't arrived yet). I screamed and made a weird hop/jump/scramble towards Nathaniel and yelled at him to get it. He looked just as taken aback as me, but being The Man, he dealt with the bug. I'll never forget the crunching noise that bug made in death. It still gives me shivers. So yeah, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of things that move... of that sort.

But I do like spiders.

When I was a little girl, I used to be terrified of spiders. I thought they would bite, and their legs didn't look normal. Any opportunity I got, I would squish one or run away (if it was too big). My Dad tried to reassure me by saying, "Don't worry. They're more afraid of you than you are of them!" To an 8 year-old with an over active imagination, this was of little reassurance. My Mom took a different approach.

"Spiders are good luck!" she finally explained. "We never kill them, but we can release them outside!"

It worked. From that point on, whenever I saw a spider, I would remind myself that it was "lucky", and if it was too big to stay inside, I would get my parent's help and we would set it free. Not a big deal. And soon, spiders and other bugs didn't bother me.

In my senior year of college, I discovered a rather formidable-looking spider in my apartment. Nathaniel had recently left for Quantico, and I was on my own, with just Tabbitha for company. Remembering my Mom's words of wisdom, I figured the spider would bring me luck. So I did what any creative, lonely person who-was-missing-her-fiancee would do, I named it. I decided the spider was a male, and his name would be Chester. Thus it was me, Tabbitha, and Chester the spider. A happy trio!

As the months progressed, I would notice Chester hanging out on the living room ceiling and occasionally in the bathroom. He seemed to like high places, which was fine with me. I didn't want Tabbitha eating our third flat mate, and her tenacity to pounce on anything that moved worried me slightly. One day when I was reaching onto the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets, I noticed a bunch of spider webs. They were beautifully created, well maintained, and placed between two empty bottles of wine. (Nathaniel and I collected wine bottles from special occasions - we saw this once at a B&B we stayed in one spring weekend. The owners had a wide collection of wine bottles that had notes or inscriptions written on the labels from previous guests. We have kept bottles from special events ever since, only we'll write a note and place it in the mouth of the bottle. It's always interesting to go back and remember a special event from 5 years past.) I was amazed by the delicate detailing of this web. I made a mental note to check back in a few days.

Sure enough, a few days later, I saw Chester in his web. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, Chester's life soon came to an end, through a cruel twist of fate. To this day, I still feel bad about it - Chester was a part of my little family in Madison. It wasn't an easy time, with Nathaniel being gone and my worrying about my future. Chester was just there, a reminder that life was okay and things would keep going, regardless of weather or not I finished a thesis draft or read a certain book for class in time. I noticed one afternoon that Chester was hanging out under the bathroom sink, near Tabbitha's cat box. The box was nuclear, as Tabbitha had just dropped a bomb. (To this day, I don't know how a cat that cute, can produce something so vile!). I was afraid that Tabbitha would find Chester and decide to reward herself with a post-poop treat. Very carefully, I grabbed my Zip Disk case, and scooped Chester onto the plastic. Chester seemed okay - not too terrified. He wasn't trying to crawl up my arm or anything, so that was at least a good thing. Carefully, ever so carefully, I climbed onto the counter top intending to place Chester back into his web, while precariously balancing on the narrow counters with one hand. Just as the disk case was near the top of the cabinets, I slipped. I lost my balance, and in doing so, involuntarily let go of the disk case with poor Chester perched trustingly on top.



I froze. Tabbitha peeked around the corner.

The disk lay innocently on the counter top. I approached very slowly, not prepared for what I would find. My worst nightmare was soon realized. I had squished poor Chester! To a little spider, a big zip disk case would weigh a lot. Chester didn't have a chance. I can only hope that he didn't feel any pain as he was squished. At least it happened quickly.

I was very sad. I killed Chester. I know it seems really stupid and silly, but when you're an overly-sensitive person, who misses her fiancee, has big worries about the future, and is trying to finish up her final year of college, even the teeniest of things can shatter your world. To this day, I still remember Chester and his beautiful web, which remained intact between our wine bottles, until I moved out. A fitting tribute to a little spider who made my world a little less lonely.

Fast forward to the morning a few days ago. I was relieved to see a small spider constructing a web between the cat water filter and the bathroom door, and not something else. It amazed me how much time this spider spent, building and perfecting her web. The detailing was wonderful, long thin lines, strongly secured between the tiled floor, doorway, and filter. She kept moving quickly up and down her silk-like lines, oblivious to my curious eyes. I wondered how long it took her to perfect her technique, how much time she spent building her web, perfecting her craft.

Watching this little spider work so hard reminded me of the things I do. They may seem out of the ordinary to some, but the swimming, biking, running, training, racing, thinking, and the lifestyle I lead is just as natural to me as building the web is to this spider. It was extraordinary how detailed she was, making sure that each line was firmly attached, and connected before moving on. She would make sure everything was correct, strongly constructed in detail and form before moving onto the next step. We too do the same. We construct or training (or have a trusted coach do this for us). We prepare, we pay attention to details, we take the time and effort to make sure we do things the right way because it's just inherently a part of what we do. We are more like this spider than we realize. The devotion, the dedication, the time spent on our craft is all similar.

I smiled as I realized we had another spider in our house. I tried not to groan too loudly as I pulled myself off the cool floor, towel in hand. I didn't want to disturb my new friend; she was already hard at work. Even though I was tired and sore, I could feel my resolve strengthen. I was in the middle of crafting my own web, making sure to create my own design, constantly building and strengthening as I went along. I didn't always know which direction I would travel next, but I kept working nonetheless. It wasn't always easy, but I didn't give up. This was just a part of me; a part of what I do. Hurrah for spiders!

My Mom was right. Spiders really are good luck.

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