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Spider wars

Esther Poulsen
Esther Poulsen

When one lives on and around a lake community, there is a constant reminder that we are neighbors to many creatures, great and small. From lumbering black bears that take a dip in our shallow coves, to flocks of birds that call to one another across the water, and even frenzied clouds of gnats that gather at sunset, our lake is bursting with life.

I’ve always loved the variety of living things that live with us on Lake Hopatcong. But there is one creature that, although I know in my heart it’s a vital part of our lake environment, I am not a particular fan of: spiders.

When I was young, I had an “understanding” with the many spiders that inhabited our house. My mother would tell me spiders were great houseguests, as their webs captured the other icky insects that were far less welcome. So, every summer, as the next generation of arachnids scampered across the ceiling of my bedroom, I had a yearly “Spider Welcome Meeting and Orientation” that went something like this:

“Welcome, and I hope you enjoy living in my bedroom. Please feel free to set up your home and hunting grounds wherever you like. However, there is one place you must never go, and that is on or over the twin bed in the corner, the one with the peach blanket and white teddy bear. To put it nicely, if you appear by the bed, you are dead. Have a nice stay!”

And for the most part, the spiders complied.

Occasionallyoneortwowouldwanderintothe forbidden zone, but they immediately met their demise with whatever copy of Tiger Beat (or during the nerd years, Macworld) I had within reach.

Fast forward a few decades and I still have an understanding with spiders. Every summer they spin their webs to capture the feast of gnats that visit my porch. I welcome the sight of their intricate webs glistening in the morning dew. As long as they don’t come near me, I’m okay.

A few years ago, my husband and I spotted a small sailboat at a yard sale over by Great Cove. It was an older boat, unused for some time, but we were enchanted by the idea of slow processions around the lake with nothing but the wind to guide us. We happily bought it and enlisted friends of ours to help tow it back to our house. Concerned that it would flip in the choppy waters of the main lake, I volunteered to sit in the sailboat to keep it stable as my husband drove our motorboat back home.

As we made our way to the main lake, the boat began rocking and rolling in the wake. The motion was not only enough to make me a little queasy, but also enough to wake up thousands and thousands of spiders. Daddy longlegs, lake spiders, and what fear and adrenaline transformed into baby tarantulas, crawled out of every corner of the boat and proceeded to dash around me.

And on me. And over me.

“Spiders!” I yelled to my friends, waving my paddle frantically. Watching from the back of the bigger boat, the noise and distance drowned out my distress, and they waved back enthusiastically.

“SPIDERS!” I shouted, desperately trying to use an oar to flick spiders into the water. And more friendly waves back, as the roar of the boat engine and the bouncing of both boats wasn’t making clear the Spidergeddon in progress only 30 feet away.

“SPIDERS, SPIDERS, SPIDERS, SPIDERS, SPIDERS!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. My panicked frenzy pierced the engine noise and everyone realized what was going on— and that included everyone within two miles of my bouncing, spider-invaded sailboat with its bouncing, spider-invaded passenger.

I was stuck. I couldn’t jump out, worried about the sailboat flipping and taking on water while tied to the motorboat. I couldn’t stand up, worried about tipping into the waves. So, I sat, resigned, for the three-mile trip home, flicking and poking spiders with epic resignation.

When we arrived home and tied up at the dock 20 minutes (to my friends) or 100 years (to me) after the journey started, I went straight inside the house, showered off spiders and fright, and settled down to a very, very large glass of wine. I never stepped onto that sailboat again; we sold it a year later to a lovely young man who was delighted to learn sailing on the lake. I will be more than happy to enjoy the lake from other watercraft, footloose and spider free.

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