My little Roomba vacuum was opposite me, having completed the living room, but it moved an inch, stopped, moved another inch, stopped, and continued that way. Normally, it would trundle off down the hallway toward “home,” but it was Inch. Stop. Inch. Stop.
What the devil? Was it broken? Something maybe caught in a wheel? But then I saw it—a large black house spider two feet in front of the Roomba, facing it.
When the Roomba moved an inch forward, the spider moved an inch backward. Roomba an inch, spider an inch. Repeatedly. I raced out the back door to call my husband so he could see this, but returning less than fifteen seconds later, the Roomba was humming down the hallway toward home, and the spider was gone. Not long after, I emptied the little vacuum’s dust bin, finding it hadn’t eaten the spider.
Did the robot “see” the spider? Was the spider trying to figure out if this was friend, foe, or food? If the robot was aware of the spider, was it searching its database, trying to identify it so it would know whether this object could be vacuumed or would jam up the works? The hesitation of both parties was thought-provoking.
Like many people, I’m ambivalent toward spiders. They can bite, but they don’t declare war the way hornets can. Most of them have a modicum of venom, but relatively few are like black widows, and even widows won’t bother you unless you sit on them like a friend of mine once did. (She lived to tell about it.)
Daddy Long Legs are partial to my basement where I used to have a pottery studio and where baby and teenaged daddies would visit me while I worked in clay. They seemed to like clay, and I’d have to shoo them away to keep them from getting entombed in it.
Jumping spiders are fun to watch and even play with a bit. Years ago and for days on end, a jumping spider visited my kitchen sink, which led to having to rescue it a few times from being washed away.
Are we born with a fear of spiders (and snakes) or is it learned? Current thinking is that we’re most likely born with it as a natural avoidance of danger. It isn’t arachnophobia, but rather, simple fear.
Inspired by the Roomba vs. Spider episode, I decided to list spider-centric books. It turns out there are plenty for children, but not so much for adults, who apparently don’t want to read or write about spiders. However, a friend clued me into a lone piece of fiction by Piers Anthony.
SPIDER BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
“Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White
A classic and a Newbery Honor Book winner, White’s tale of a spider named Charlotte who spells out messages in her web for a little pig named Wilbur has been charming parents and children since 1952 when it was first published. (8 and up)
The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
As a spider spins her web on a fence, farm animals invite her to do things with them, but she’s much too busy. Eventually, the animals can see what a beautiful and entirely useful thing she’s created. Perhaps a lesson in diligence that little children might pick up on, but more likely they’ll enjoy the simple, colorful illustrations and may learn to not always fear spiders. (Read-aloud, ages 3-5 years)
Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale by Pat Cummings
Stories of Ananse, the trickster spider, have long been told to children in Ghana and the Caribbean to both amuse and teach good behavior. In this story, Cummings retells the tale of Ananse and Lizard competing after the chief claims that anyone guessing the name of his daughter will win her in marriage. For ages 5-8. Searching Amazon for “Ananse” will bring up more such tales.
Diary of a Spider by Doreen Cronin
Looking for something different? Then this spider’s diary might well be it with its humorous text and illustrations involving the spider’s observations, his days at school and with his best friend, who’s a fly. Children are likely to enjoy it, ask questions, and absorb the intertwined facts, and they’re also likely to want you to read it with them again and again, so beware! For preschool through grade 3.
The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo
This retelling of a nearly forgotten tale by bestselling author, Raymond Arroyo, won’t be available until 10/15/20, but you can pre-order it. Amazon’s blurb describes it as the “tale of Nephila, a cave-dwelling spider who plays a pivotal role central to the Christmas story…reminding us that hope can always be found even in dark places where we least expect it. (ages 5-8)
SPIDER BOOKS FOR ADULTS
Castel Roogna (Magic of Xanth, No. 3) by Piers Anthony
Restored by Xanth’s magic, Millie, an 800-year-old ghost, is now a desirable woman who wants only Jonathan, a zombie. Magician Dor seeks an elixir to restore Jonathan to full life, an elixer found only in the past. To get there, he goes through a magic tapestry where he meets Jumper, a scary and giant spider, who becomes a fast friend and ally. It’s here that Dor meets the living Millie, but the problem is that his new body is that of a twelve-year old. There are 38 books in the Xanth series.
Spiders and Their Kin: A Fully Illustrated, Authoritative and Easy-to-Use Guide
An older edition of this book is on my shelf, and if I’m seeking to identify a spider, I go to it before the Audubon book simply because this one is dedicated to spiders, its illustrations are well-defined, and it covers more information. It might also be a better book for young people.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders: North America
This book is on my shelf and has served well as an identifier of spiders (and insects). It’s always good to have more than a single reference, so it combines well with “Spiders and Their Kin.”
And that’s how minds work: from a robot that sucks up dirt to a spider, to pondering organic and artificial intelligence, to memories of decent spiders, and on into literature. This is how we amuse ourselves.