I have a little stone plaque on my desk that says "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her." Thoreau could have said it, or maybe it's a paraphrase written by some cubicle-bound sentiment writer but either way it's a thought that I subscribe to wholly.
Love, as anyone who has ever been married or owned a British sports car knows, means respect. Simple as that. When you respect Nature, that also implies that you know what can harm you in Nature, or at least make an effort at knowing. Me, I love Nature. I figure if I'm going to spend the rest of my days surrounded by it and it's going to reclaim me when I'm gone then I may as well bow to the inevitable. I know which plants I should and should not touch, which bugs I can and cannot pick up and tickle unmercifully until they pee, and I know how to read the danger signs; ominous rattling in the rocks, curious loud buzzing sounds from under the eaves, white smoke issuing from the exhaust pipe...er, well, you get the picture.
I've even got a coworker who likes to laugh at me when I go out of my way to rescue crickets and dirt daubers who accidentally wander into the office. Many is the time I've restored perfectly innocent (and non-poisonous) grass spiders to the lawn after she's come flying up the hallway screaming "Brown Recluse! Brown Recluse!" I've even been known to show these alarmists what makes said critters NOT harmful. I have handled more carpenter bees, garter snakes and interesting beetles than I've had warm meals, and I get quite a satisfaction in that.
Face it, one of my few tenants to a good life is that all life is sacred. It's done well by me, hasn't it? So with all this love and respect in mind, I was cutting grass in the back backyard. No stutter, I've got two backyards. One is the 'regular' backyard, which begins at the back of my house. The back backyard is a pasture of an acre or so that I've slowly, gently wrestled away from being a, well, a pasture and into something more like an extended backyard. Nice grass, well-placed trees, and the weeds have almost let go. And in this verdant spread I've got a few longleaf pine tree seedlings that I've planted, to break up the oaks and pecan trees, leftovers of the fifty seedlings that I planted last year.
Now, the thing with pine seedlings is that they're seedlings. Smallish. Being smallish, they're easily overcome by weeds, and since I'm basically at heart a slug, the weeds can get pretty high around them. Let's face it, when you've got four hours worth of yard to cut every weekend it's hard to want to carefully manicure around seedlings. And tonight, with this unexpected but VERY welcome cool weather I decided that tonight was a good time to stop the mower for a few minutes, climb off and, cigar clenched firmly in my teeth, pull some of the two-foot tall weeds that were threatening to smother my little tree.
My usual method of weeding the sort of spindly, icky stuff that grows in my back backyard is just like any other weeding process--get a big hand full of the offender down by the roots and heave. And when you've got a little sprig of six inch long bright green needles to avoid you tend to slip your fingers around carefully until you're sure you don't have any pine tree and you pull. Which I did. Several times, in fact, making a clear space around the little tree, wide enough that I could ease the lawnmower around it without risking mowing my tree.
And then for some reason or other I got a little lazy. Didn't quite reach all the way to the roots to pull the next clump out. Maybe it was because the ground is still damp enough that the weeds were popping right out of the ground. If I was religious I'd say that an angel kept me from reaching all the way down. No matter the reason, I missed grabbing a hand full of black widow spider by about an inch. A stinking INCH.
The monkey in my hindbrain reacted to it long before the civilized part of my brain saw it and jerked my hand away like, well, like I had been bit. She was hanging there in that little matted, messy web that they weave, tucked neatly in a small clear spot. Around her was the carcasses of two black crickets that hadn't been as lucky at evasion as I was. She was hanging upside down, and all my monkey mind saw was that thumbnail-sized glossy black body, shiny as a fine pair of leather shoes that had been lovingly polished. And on that gleaming ebony perfection sat that exquisitely detailed hourglass, as red as freshly-spilled blood. She didn't even have to move, because I was doing all the moving for her. I think I cleared the lawn tractor with a good three feet to spare.
I blame the Discovery Channel. See, they've spent so many millions of dollars warning people that black widows are often found in dark, cool closets or in the toes of old shoes or in a corner of your quiet, dusty tool shed that I had quite forgotten that they, first and foremost, live in Nature. Places like thick stands of weeds where no-one cuts, for instance. And me, the paramount idiot, had almost, ALMOST wrapped my hand lovingly around her with the intention of doing a little lawn maintenance.
Let's be honest here, kids. I almost peed myself. I got that close to having an extraordinarily painful, very dangerous spider bite because I had forgotten that while Nature will never betray the heart that loves her, she WILL give the heart that has forgotten to respect her one very hard lesson, and perhaps a good scar as a memento.
And yes, if you're wondering, I think I did kill her. I couldn't find anything to crush her with (I'm sorry, all life is sacred but that scared the HELL out of me) but I think the little anti-scalping wheel did squish her when I finally had stopped shaking long enough to get back on the mower and get it in gear. And if I didn't kill her I'll know it when a lawyer sends me a summons for a hit-and-run lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Mrs. One Bad Mother.