Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation
What you can learn from your dogs! Jim Shepard has a few fond, rueful stories.
My wife, Karen, found a Wolf spider in the shower the other day that was somewhere between two and three inches in diameter. She'd turned on the water before she'd seen it and now it was sitting there drying out, spread-legged and a little stunned. I was going to kill it, but the sheer spectacle of the thing mesmerized us. We put it in a Mason jar. When our 4-year-old daughter got home from preschool, she put her nose up against the glass and the thing stood on its hind legs and extended its pedipalps, the way tarantulas do in nature specials. If you touched the jar at all, it rushed back and forth as much as the space allowed, enraged. It was clear that we had a fairly special spider here.
I figured I'd hang on to it for a couple of days to show various people that I wasn't exaggerating, and then I'd let it go after walking a block or two. I didn't need to see that son of a bitch again. And if I did see him again, his little reprieve was history.
So a day later, feeling a little like the neighborhood Saint Francis, I trooped across the street to a brushy slope, holding the jar out in front of me like someone carrying an isotope of radium, the spider hunching and gathering itself as if grimly trying to figure out what else could go wrong, and when I turned the jar over, it spread its legs and caught the lower branches of a young maple, scrambling up and stabilizing itself on a leaf, its weight bending and bobbing the leaf toward the ground. Its fierce little head tracked me while it crouched there swaying, looking more homicidal than grateful.
That week was Wildlife Week, in fact. We live near a protected forest in Massachusetts, which means that deer and turkeys and rabbits and the occasional muskrat periodically scuff through our yard. Even so, not so much in the predator line happens by. Two days before the wolf spider, though, Karen settled into her desk in our study to find herself nose to nose with a huge black bear outside her window. The bear was on his butt and had pulled the bird feeder down with both paws and was snarfing the seeds inside. He was so big that even on his butt he could reach it, and we had it hanging at shoulder height. He was so strong that he had the 30-foot pine on which it hung bent toward him as he pulled.
I was around the other side of the house shooting baskets with the kids. Karen called for us in that voice that unmistakably signals that something's hit the fan. By the time we all arrived at her study window, Dino, our 3-year-old beagle, had come out of his customary unconscious sprawl atop the couch, had pieced together what was going on, and was sprinting around in such desperation that he appeared to be levitating by at high speed, ricocheting from window to window and generating enough noise for a one-dog fox hunt.
The bear came off as mostly methodical, and about as dignified as something that obliviously single-minded can look. He was putting both paws into the effort of tilting the feeder enough to empty the last of the seeds into his mouth. Dino bicycled the glass with his front paws, hysterical with outrage, and the bear gazed over at him with some serenity and then returned to the mysteries of the feeder. This went on for some time—the humans oohing and aahing, Dino beside himself, the bear unhurriedly bobbing the feeder over his open jaws, like someone shaking sugar into his coffee—until finally I started banging on the glass with my palm and shouting (he was only four feet away).
We Hear You!