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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Rathert


During the initial planning of my river trip, I expressed specific concerns about being alone, night fears, critters of all sorts, and spiders at worst. In reality, as the trip goes, I have no fear-filled moments of imagined things and, so far, none in real form either. No intruders of any type have come except for a little sniffy nosed creature at the outside corner of my tent one night where my food was stored in a bear bag inside the tent. I leave my food in the tent now, a big taboo in the outdoor world, simply because I am out of the far north where critters usually are feared to be the size of sasquatch and extra hungry.

This little critter returned a couple times during the night to steal a waft of my jerky, so scent-strong that it penetrated the bear bag and two walls of tent. I swatted at the animal and put lantern light in its face. Whoever it was must not have been too hungry because my sleepy lame efforts caused it to go.

I am not a great fan of spiders so I had some initial concerns how I'd handle them on my river trip. There are plenty of spiders out here but none that I have had to kill in self defense. It's the time of year that spiders are preoccupied with feeding themselves and it's important to remember, they don't eat things like humans. Left alone to make a nightly web, then sleep all day in a hidden corner, the spider is a good neighbor. Each evening they return to the same scraggly web and rebuild it, Iike reweaving an old lawn chair and taking seat in it for another evening, never sure when the last time using it will be.

As a spider-hater, I have spent hours of life watching them. Some nights I've gone out with a flashlight and watched the rebuild going on. Not my intention but this has served mostly to confuse the spider that it's daytime and they run to their day corner to fall asleep. Afraid a spider will crawl on a human, but who's the intruder now?

In my camps, two different places, two different nights, I've seen a fat spider each time. Big-butted, gray in color, waddling along doing what she's supposed to do. Last night, as I pitched my tent, I had to duck each time I passed under her web. She was busy, building building building, but I mistook the bouncy motion as spider clumsiness. I was certain she'd fall on my head one of these times, yet still did not want to disturb. But spiders don't drop. They are too focused on themselves to be interested in me and so skilled in hanging on. They make a sticky web but not for fear of their own falling. Spiders don't stick to their own webs, the sticky is for us invaders.

I've read that you can tell the age of a spider by the condition of their web. The first night it is perfection. A few nights of reconstruction, she forgets or is too tired to measure. As it goes along, the web loses its fine and delicate design and is patched up by a now-fattened old spider as if she's mending farmer jeans. Looks no longer count, just get it done sturdy enough for another use.

It's inevitable, one evening when the web is finally fluttering in the breeze, no revising going on, the spider is just gone. I'm curious, is she on to the next thing or did a bird have her for breakfast.

As a spider-watcher, witnessing spiders take on their tasks makes any fear of them a waste of emotions. She so rarely thinks of jumping on a person or biting, her life mattering to her more than human bother. I had a feeling last night that we shared the experience of solitude, she in the web and me on the river. Busy each evening putting up camp, busy each morning taking it down. Paddling to the new place, and repeat. One day I'll be gone from here, like the spider. Finding a watched-spider gone is not sad or yearn-filled, but just oh well, now that's done.

When I reach the Gulf below New Orleans, I'm certain it will be anticlimactic like the web. It likely will be a solitary experience, one that only I will know time and day. The road ends far above, so who's ever going to swim out to say yay! with me. I imagine paddling out, turning back, all in a single turn-around stroke, like a spider's final night in her web.

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