The Least of Our Worries

Kathie Gibboney

From time to time I peruse the job posts in hopes of finding the perfect occupation.  

Starting a whole new life choice where I am doing good work that pays a lot of money, doesn’t involve much driving, oh, and a wardrobe allowance would be nice.  

Most of the posts are disappointing. An “Associate” actually means a trainee who cleans the bathrooms; a “Brand Ambassador” is a lowly sales person hawking caffeinated, canned drinks at the RV show; a “Team Member” works the stockroom lifting boxes weighing forty pounds or more in eight-hour shifts.  

Sometimes I’m intrigued with an unusual position. The grave tender seems a peaceful trade.  Cemeteries are calm and restful places. While sweeping off a headstone and placing flowers one would have a great deal of time to think, to contemplate the circle of life, maybe even compose a poem or two. There would be birds and trees. But there would be death, so much death. Death to the left, death to the right. No, Mr. D., I’ll dance with you later. For now, I’ve got a lot of livin’ to do.

What about the exotic animal specialist for parties and events? I like goats and bunnies. But reading more of the job description, I’d have to be fine with handling the giant spitting cockroach and tarantulas. Although, not as squeamish as I once was around many-legged things, I am not at ease in their presence and besides I have my own exotics to deal with.  

May brings the scorpions. Ugly little things the same color as the woven carpet. You don’t see them until they move, fast. They come at night and always seem to travel from west to east across the living room floor. It’s the surprise of them that is most frightening, that and their alien, exoskeleton appearance. Heeding some inner warning I am prepared this year. I know to scan the corners and keep my feet up, maybe check my slippers before putting them on and, of course, keep the net ready.  

The first year we encountered them we were terrified. After dispatching at least three of the vile looking creatures, we contacted our landlord who did indeed provide us with an exterminator who sprayed, God knows what, around the outside of the house. I tried to feel that this was the practical way to deal with the problem, the way grownups did things, a way to keep the children safe but I had mixed feelings about whatever toxic substance was being released into the foundations of our home. I couldn’t help but wonder if any and all unwelcome crawly, jumping, or slithery things lurking in crevices, might be driven inside, impelled to avoid the fumigation by seeking shelter within our very house.  

Some might even take it personally and invade as an act of revenge for disturbing them in their dark and creepy holes.  They might just say, “Couldn’t leave well enough alone could you? There we are just hanging around, not really hurting anyone, just doing our thing and you have to get all Little Miss Muffit on us and bring in ‘The Man’!  Just because you don’t like the way we look? Just because we’re different? What happened to that beautiful Topanga, loving nature, Earth Day stuff? Well, you asked for it, we’re coming in. It’s party time and we’re bringing some of our friends. You don’t mind a few Black Widows do you?”

Actually, the scorpions that show up here are not really harmful. In fact, they might not truly be scorpions at all, but something called a Sun Scorpion, a member of an order called Solifugae, which is non-venomous, but a scorpion by any other name would still be as icky. Knowing this, I brace myself to face what’s coming, hoping to handle it, not with panic but with some decorum and grace, catch and release in the net because, yes, this is Topanga and we are all God’s creatures.

The Beleaguered Husband, who was busy sweeping up outside, suddenly comes in the house looking harried and confused.  He runs out the front door and then returns brandishing the shovel. “What’s going on?” I query.

“Snake,” he announces running out the back door.  “I was almost bitten. Baby rattler.”

“Wait!” I caution. “Maybe we can use the net?”

Pretty soon we are standing on either side of a small snake curled in a pile of leaves, the pile of leaves Michael had been just about to pick up. “Luckily I noticed the tongue,” he says.

We debate calling the Fire Department but feel we should somehow be able to handle this ourselves. We have collected a large white bucket with another one that can fit on top of it like a lid. We have a vague plan to somehow scoop the snake into the bucket, and release it over in the creek. For a while we just stand there holding a shovel and a butterfly net, the snake between us, on a mid-morning in Topanga. Unsure how to proceed we just look at each other and then back to the snake and then back at each other.  

The snake is the same color as the dry leaves and seems calm but for its flicking tongue. We hesitate to make a move fearing the little reptile might suddenly strike or jump or fly. Finally, I hold the net out at arm’s length and nuzzle it gently towards the animal’s head.  It begins to move in that classic snake slithering movement and almost enters into the net, sidestepping it at the last minute, if a snake can sidestep. I try again and this time the little creature crawls right into the net. I quickly move over the open bucket and attempt to plop my catch in, but it is somewhat tangled in the netting, so I just put the whole net in, and Michael quickly places the cover on with just the handle of the net sticking out.  

Wow! Success!  The snake wranglers have done it.  With the bucket held gingerly my husband ventures down the street to release the small native back into the wild, and away he slithered. I like to think the snake paused for a moment, looked back, and spoke in snake speak, “Thanks, Mike.”

Sitting on the patio I notice between the wall and an outdoor umbrella, a giant round web.  It glistens in the sunlight and is indeed an impressive piece of work. The intricacy of the design is an amazing feat, but it is the size that is most stunning and startlingly too close for comfort. It looks large enough to catch a small bird and there is just something I don’t like about webs to begin with. They seem so sneaky and while I understand spinning webs and catching things is just what spiders do, I’d rather they do it elsewhere, not where my butterflies flit. The architect appears not to be in residence, but I bet if I return with a flashlight when it grows dark, we may see something akin to a really frightening Halloween decoration.

Later, emboldened by a glass of wine, I press the husband into service. We step out into the dark and shine the flashlight in the direction of the web.  And there it is, every bit as creepy as I thought and more so. In addition to the really big spider, the flashlight creates an even larger spooky shadow of a monstrous arachnid like something found in a haunted, crumbling castle. One almost expected to hear scary organ music begin to play. A chill ran down my spine. Somehow I didn’t think the butterfly net would prove a sufficient tool.  Again, Michael and I just stand there, like Hansel and Gretel lost in the forest. Suddenly my husband springs into action, grabbing the push broom, which has a nice long handle and sweeping the whole mess into the foliage. Let’s hope the spider doesn’t send its larger big brother back in its place.

It is still early in the spring and, as the weather warms, who knows what may come crawling out. But these are only creepy-crawlies, shadow things, none as dangerous as speeding drivers on our road, or fire started by carelessness, or an angry human with a gun in their hand and hate in their heart. If only I had a net big enough to scoop up that thoughtlessness, the sadness, the anger, the hurt, ignorance, the greed, and the hate.  If I could wave it through the air and cleanse us of our foibles, that could be my job. Like Holden in The Catcher in The Rye, who wanted to keep children safe from running over a cliff. I would be there to stop the bad thoughts or selfish acts or keep a kid from saying something that would make another kid cry. Maybe stop someone from hurting an animal or texting something mean. Yes, I would like that job, and when the net got too full I would dissolve the contents into stardust with the last thing left in Pandora’s box, Hope. Hope that we will do better.  

So come my creepies and crawlies, those who slither and spin, welcome you are, for you are the least of our worries.


Kathie Gibboney
Kathie Gibboney

It has been said that Kathie Gibboney invented the Unicorn, which she neither admits nor denies, as it might reveal her true age. Kathie is an essayist, reporter, and poet for MMN with her column, "My Corner of The Canyon." She lives happily in a now-empty nest in Topanga, CA with The Beleaguered Husband and a marmalade cat.

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