Monday, April 7, 2014
Gabriel and the Tarantula
We don't know how it got inside, but it seemed to know exactly where it was going.
It headed for the kitchen, where Gabriel was sauteeing some peppers and onions for his vegetarian tostada. As the pepper's scent wafted into the air, and the cayenne darkened to a deep brown, the tarantula advanced. Its elaborate lifting, weighting, unweighting, and toe points gave it the impression of a dance step -- the tarantella to be exact.
The sultry August night in Tucson was familiar with such things. This was the season of monsoon corn, Sonoran toads bleating like babies after a rain, Mexican bats dipping and darting for mosquitoes. The nights were an explosion of life. The air was thick with the urge to eat and mate. Some things try to address unfinished business, and take the days to move and make things right.
It made straight for Gabriel, rounding the corner of the fridge and advancing onto the kitchen tile.
Gabriel still did not know why he happened to turn around, but he did.
The tarantula, sensing the movement, stopped in its complicated tracks, and looked at Gabriel through its compound spider eyes.
Gabriel froze as the peppers and onions began to carmelize.
His tostada would have to wait.
Nobody knows how long the two of them sized each other up in an arachnid/human face off.
The tarantula did not rear up in defensive posture, nor did it kick any stinging hairs in Gabriel's direction.
Gabriel did not raise his sandal-covered foot, nor did he roll up a news paper and crush the interloper.
Instead he turned down the flame, reached into his pocket, found his phone, and called me. Then he backed away from the big spider, and slowly exited the kitchen.
Before I could pick up, the tarantula resumed its trek and followed Gabriel out of the kitchen, down the hall, around the corner, and then under the door into Gabriel's bedroom. It climbed up the wall, about eye-high, and then stopped, head up.
"There's a tarantula on the wall," Gabriel's voice said when I finally got back to him.
"On the wall?" I said, not quite grasping the situation.
As his landlord, I felt responsible for heating, cooling, roof integrity, and wild animal intrusions into the small apartment.
"I'll be right over."
He was right. There was a tarantula on the adobe brick wall.
Gabriel was on the phone with his grandmother.
"Kill it," I heard through the receiver.
"Yes, Tata, I know that they are not friends, that we go way back," Gabriel conceded.
After a few more choice phrases on the reprehensibility of tarantulas, Gabriel hung up and looked at me.
"The was my grandmother. She says our family has a long history with the tarantula clan, that we always kill them when we see them. It's a kind of feud or vendetta." He looked at my incredulity of a feud with tarantulas.
"It's not the tarantulas themselves... it's that they show up at bad times, and my family sees them as part of the bad times."
I nodded. I did not know of such things. I was a white college teacher, and Gabriel was a Tohono O' Odham graduate student. We were working together on a summer course teaching research to undergraduates. He was a smart, curious guy with an iron work ethic. I respected his advice about the course and needed him to help with all the paper grading.
"She ordered me to kill it," he said.
"Well, what do you want to do?" I asked.
"You're not going to believe this, but I want to take a different path."
I nodded, listening, waiting for him to go on. I wanted to know more and he was clearly uncomfortable with his thoughts.
"I want to end this war my family is fighting with the tarantulas. I want to make it right and move on, not as friends necessarily, but in peaceful coexistence. Even if the thing gives me the creeps..."
"We can catch it and move it outside if you want," I offered.
"You could do that?"
I was surprised that he was surprised.
"Yeah, no problem."
I went to get a manila folder and a Tupperware container. I would put the plastic dish over the tarantula and then slide the folder underneath, making a trap and transport container.
When I returned, Gabriel was talking the spider, and it seemed to be listening.
"This has gone on too long, and you and I know it's time to move past all this. We know better now. We share this place. We are brothers in a way, both trying to make a living here. You pose no real danger to me and I don't get anything out of harming you. We are both expressions of life here and can again remember that."
He stopped talking when he saw me, a little embarrassed, but not much. I agreed with him. We had talked about these ideas before, many times.
In fact, we were reading folk lore about spiders as weavers of stories and dreams. They have a magic, a superpower, if you will, and deserve respect, like all living things.
Gabriel had seemed conflicted during some of our discussions. Now I understood why.
When he was ready and stood back from the spider, I approached it and quickly placed the deep dish over the creature. It was easily as big as my hand and did not move so much as a muscle in alarm. I slid the file folder up under his delicate feet and he lifted them so the file could pass under. When it was sealed, I pulled the lid and dish and spider away from the wall and flipped it so the spider was standing now on the folder.
I looked at Gabriel. He nodded. We took the big spider outside to Gabriel's garden. He grew corn and peppers, like his ancestors, but also some basil and kale -- new crops for him.
We released the tarantula. When I shone a light on it, its eyes lit in brilliant reflection before it slowly danced off into the cover of night.