My wife Ellen is normally a kind and peaceful soul. She can tolerate enormous amounts of frustration with a calm grace that’s exceptional, as evidenced by her putting up with me for over a quarter century and even smiling most of the time. But she has a steely side to her that equipped her well for being principal of two high schools in Illinois, places where she commanded with a gentle touch and won the admiration of students, parents, colleagues, and community leaders.
With this backdrop I will now proceed to show Ellen’s steely side in a completely different context. She hates bugs of almost any kind with great passion. It matters little whether a bug is dead or alive—simply the sight of one puts her on a high state of alert. So our decision to move to central Texas over a decade ago placed us in the western edge of a humid subtropical climate that is well populated with bugs large and small.
About a month ago she and I sat on our deck late one perfectly beautiful Friday afternoon, communing with nature and watching some puffy clouds drift across an almost royal-blue sky. All was calm, quiet, and peaceful until we got up to come inside. As she walked a few steps ahead of me, she let out an “Oh my God!” that could be heard as far away as Dallas and Houston. As I snapped to attention, she called out “It’s a tarantula!” as her body and nervous system coordinated an especially lively form of jitterbug on our deck.
In her characteristic fashion she quickly calmed herself and said to me in her commanding voice, “Kill it! How are you going to kill it? Will you please kill it?”
In my characteristic fashion, since I happen to like most bugs and find them interesting to watch, I strolled over to our tarantula that was slowly climbing up our cedar siding about five feet from the door to our living room. He moved in halting steps, no doubt wondering what kind of dance Ellen had just performed and hoping for more of what appeared to be the start of a great show.
Smashing a large, hairy tarantula with about a 4-inch leg span against our sage green siding would have made a huge mess that I would have to clean up. Sharing this reasoning with Ellen, I asked her to keep an eye on the tarantula while I went inside to find something to put it in. I chose a large plastic food storage container with a lid and, so armed, went back to the deck. I placed the container over the tarantula, slid the lid between the container and the wall, and jiggled the tarantula into the container as I slid the lid over it. At first the tarantula expressed some unhappiness over his imprisonment by doing a rapid little dance of his own that was not too different from the one Ellen had just performed on his sighting. I suppose similar genes in tarantulas and people account for the similarity of the two dances.
As I started through the house with the captured tarantula, Ellen asked me what I was going to do with it. I said I was going to put it on my workbench in the garage so we could show it to our daughter Joy and son-in-law Luke, both of whom appreciate wild things. Ellen then said in her unmistakably commanding voice, “I don’t want it anywhere in the house. Put it outside!” So I did.
After dinner we called Luke and Joy to tell them about this capture and to ask if they wanted to see it. It turns out they didn’t necessarily want to see it since they were familiar with tarantulas from their camping trips and other outdoor adventures. But Luke immediately advised that we release the tarantula down in the canyon behind our house so it could continue to catch bugs. He argued that the tarantula was our friend who lived off other bugs, lizards, and even small snakes. While venomous, he said tarantulas rarely bite people and are never fatal.
But Ellen was unconvinced that we should release our catch back to the wild. She wanted it dead. So I had a conundrum on my hands. Luke made a good argument and I was inclined to agree with him. But I was not unsympathetic to Ellen’s argument either. I do a lot of outside work in our landscape and did not want to inadvertently bump into an unseen tarantula.
Nearly three days passed with Luke and Ellen’s arguments going back and forth in my head. I checked on the tarantula from time to time throughout the weekend and it continued to move around its plastic prison in an admirable nonchalance. Finally, about mid-morning on Monday I put the encased tarantula in the car and drove it to a remote part of a nearby park along Bull Creek. No one was there except for the normal, mostly unseen, park creatures. I released the tarantula in a muddy, grassy area near the creek, reasoning that it was both hungry and thirsty by this time. It began to stretch its legs and look for a late breakfast.
Returning to the house, I put the food storage container/tarantula prison in our recycling bin. Somehow it didn’t seem right to use it again for leftover cabbage, carrots, or beans.