This morning I looked inside for words and found what seemed a vacant shell. There was only a scrap of dream carried by a small breeze down some empty alley of my consciousness. The image was a vivid black tarantula. I felt no residual emotion clinging to this shard of memory. I'm not an arachnophobe, so the spider wasn't a crumb of nightmare fallen onto the floor of wakefulness. It was just a beautiful black tarantula. The dream was probably triggered by watching a YouTube clip of the amazing 3D artwork of Stefan Pabst, in which he renders a hairy tarantula onto the gridded page of a laboratory notebook. In the clip, a small girl is trying to stomp on the spider, even though it was already a flat, two-dimensional drawing on a thin piece of paper.
I sat with this wisp of an image, following it into the half lit morning. Outside the house, plops of water, leftovers from last night’s rain, were falling from a leafless cherry tree onto our patio awning. The sound carried me back thirty years to a rainforest in southeastern Peru, where I once spent two months walking lowland jungle trails searching for amphibians and reptiles in Cuzco Amazonico. For weeks our crew had waited on the rains. They finally came, an incessant deluge lasting most of the night.
By daybreak the storm had passed. The morning light was dim and drippy, the near-equatorial sun subdued by heavy overcast and closed forest canopy. I walked with my colleague Patricia on a familiar jungle trail. After nearly a month in this place, we were comfortable and at home. Bird calls and frog choruses and the roar of howler monkeys fit like muddy jungle boots. Half a mile or so into the forest, our path disappeared into a newly formed pond in a low-lying area. Limbless trees rose straight and tall from opaque water. Big drops were falling from the leafy ceiling into the newborn swamp, water in motion striking water inert, each irregular plop forming a tiny caldera dispersing its energy in outwardly rippling rings. I waded into the cool, thigh deep pond. Patricia followed. She was much shorter than I, so the water was up to her waist. We sent our own rippling energy across the dimpled surface.
Thirty meters into the swamp, I spotted a large black tarantula perched on a bare tree trunk about a foot above the water. I stopped to admire its beatific hairiness. The spider would have fit well in the palm of my hand. I could almost feel the soft stroke of its hirsute legs on my palm. I called Patricia over for a look. Just as she arrived, the tarantula walked very deliberately down the trunk, vanishing into brown water. Patricia shrieked and plunged for dry ground.
She was afraid of spiders. I had no idea.