Ask people where they seek solace and most likely you'll hear of an outdoor place: sitting by the ocean, hiking in the woods or working in the garden. This pull toward nature is part of who we are. In his 1973 book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, psychologist Erich Fromm defined this phenomenon as biophilia: "the passionate love of life and all that is alive." Entomologist E.O. Wilson went on to refine this definition a decade later in his book Biophilia, realigning the definition with his bug-centric worldview. "Human evolution is enmeshed with nature and our love of all living things is innate," he said.

Fast-forward 15 years and it seems that what we're experiencing is a transition from biophilia to biophobia, a fear of living things. Especially the creepy-crawly ones. I recall summers spent sprawled out on a blanket in the grass, devouring books on loan from the local library. This past summer, in an attempt to avoid chiggers, I laid out in plastic chairs at the local public pool. It was still an intoxicating experience, but not quite the same connectedness you feel when lying in the grass, twirling your fingers around dandelions and feeling the earth beneath you. There were also droves of mosquitoes emboldened by our steamy, wet summer. No matter what time of day, we were prey.

Then, along came the arachnids. Anyone who's lived on the prairie can tell you about brown recluse spiders and identify a person within six degrees of separation who's been bitten. "BRs," my friend Carolyn likes to call them. I like to call them the stuff of nightmares because I'm not sure what else you call spiders that can live six months without food or water, and are small enough to be undetected yet have a venomous bite that can cause your flesh to decay.

I'm ashamed to admit I've squished many spiders this summer because of my fear. I hadn't really considered brown recluses until a friend (once removed) was bitten this summer and nearly required a skin graft. People kept telling me to look for a violin shape on the spider's back. I don't know who gets close enough to determine exactly what musical instrument is on a bug's back, but it's not me.

This move to a new home took that concern to a whole new level when the neighbor across the street from my new house—who has since moved—told me I had BRs. And then, for good measure threw in, "You have wolf spiders, too." Thanks, neighbor. Wolf spiders are harmless, but they look like tarantulas. And they jump.

Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit


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