By Jeremiah Reardon
Its mind made up, the four-inch wide insect plopped onto the street and stepped gingerly across the concrete. For a few minutes I stood over it, fascinated by its steady gait toward the other side. If traffic remained light, its chances looked good! Hopeful that it’d make it safely, I continued home.
A week ago in the afternoon I was reading an article on Chromebook in the guest room. Startled when a two-inch wide tarantula popped up on its left edge, I eased off the bed, and with my free hand, unlatched the sliding metal-framed window. I shook the sucker from the blue clamshell case, condemning it to its fate five stories below. Whew! Close call, I thought, grateful for my quick reaction.
Believers of reincarnation, Buddhists show appreciation for all forms of life. They also believe in karma, the concept that our daily actions determine the direction of our lives. Sparing a spider ennobles its life and ours along with it. And, it’ll consume other annoying insects trapped within its intricate webs.
The summer I turned eight in Queens, New York City, my best friend Jimmy and I rode bicycles by a scene out of The War of the Worlds, then playing at Fresh Meadows Shopping Center. Busted concrete lay strewn about on sun-scorched lots in an area vacated for construction of the Long Island Expressway. A couple of miles south in wealthy Jamaica Estates, a towhead boy our age played, the future 45th president.
The path of my life changed when a stray cat ran under the wheel of a car that passed at a good clip. Smacked down, it instinctively leaped with all its strength, then twisted against the hot asphalt, in a failed effort to gain traction. “Is it gonna die, Jimmy?” I cringed, scared from having witnessed the violent impact.
“Yep, it’s a goner,” he replied matter-of-factly. Minutes later, the bloodied victim drew its final breath. Moving cautiously to minimize contact, I grabbed its tail and quickly dropped it onto the grass. We buried its mangy carcass under a mound of debris, offering its animal-soul to God. Who knows if my respect for ants, fireflies, and spiders sprung from this sad encounter? How had I acquired a sense of compassion while it bypassed that rich kid from Jamaica Estates in his life’s path?
The closest that I’ve come to being bitten by a tarantula happened in the 2003 rainy season of Costa Rica. Our Philadelphia friend Francina’s ridgetop casita offered a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean. We’d follow the day’s mood by glancing at the tableau of shimmering colors on its water. Early one morning, sunlight had pierced dispersing rain clouds. A double rainbow originated just ahead of us and arched across the sky toward the village of Baru. Breathtaking!
Beginning at sunrise, her neighbor Macho, a local minister wearing shorts and riding boots, occasionally wielded his scythe in rhythmic strokes over a quarter-acre perimeter. His work created a barrier around the house, as dangerous critters preferred the cover of long grass and weeds. A laminated plastic sheet illustrating poisonous insects and animals always sat on the coffee table; I’d study it before venturing out. (If it’s red, beware!)
While enjoying morning coffee on the shaded porch, I gingerly slid my foot into a leather sandal. In the blink of an eye, a four-inch wide tarantula escaped from its open toe onto terra cotta tile. I screamed, “Belinda! Francina! Look, a tarantula!”
Out from the kitchen they ran. Having told them how I’d found it, Francina gasped, “Wow, that’s a big one. Weren’t you lucky, Jeremiah?” We lingered to watch the orange-black invader crawl in the direction of potted plants before squeezing under one. Even to this day, we always make sure to shake our footwear before getting into them.
One outcome of the visit was that Belinda realized that she couldn’t handle hot weather and humidity, along with the presence of so many insects. Not her cup of tea! When it came time to retire ten years later, looking for places abroad, Costa Rica didn’t make the cut.
Cuenca has its share of insects, to be sure, but not in the amount or variety found in the Amazon or along Ecuador’s coast. And no snakes, at least in our experience. Our altitude in the Andean highlands keeps flies and mosquitoes at bay. Like in “The Story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears,” where the sleepy girl tested each bear’s bed, Cuenca is just right!