I’ve been grossed out before. I’ve been terrified before.
But, never before have I been as grossed out and terrified at the same time as I was one day in the not so distant past.
It was a simple enough beautification project for the Kingdom. We have some potted plants that have outgrown their current pots and we had some bigger pots to transfer them to. Easy enough. I’ve done it before. We had stalled on the project for a month because it is a messy chore normally and when you factor in two little prince “helpers” the clean-up was likely to take longer than the actual move. Plus the summer heat hasn’t lent itself to actually getting the work done.
Then one day, one fateful day, I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” The Queen was away for a couple hours. The Littler Prince was napping. The Little Prince was gung-ho to be helpful. So, he and I went outside and started filling the new pots with some soil. Then it was time to pull the plant out of its current pot…
I noticed a few ants on the pot itself. Not a lot. Just a line coming up and working its way into the branches of the plant. Not a big deal. I had seen ants on the plant before. My rule, typically, is to leave the ants alone when they are outside, because I’d rather them be happy outside than happy inside. However… I should have maybe taken a closer look at this point. I should have maybe taken this as a sign to just leave the plants alone and tackle the project a different day. I should have been better prepared for what was about to happen. I wasn’t, of course, and so you get this wonderful – awful – story.
I worked the edge of the soil loose with a shovel around the inside of the pot… and then pulled the root bulb free, ready to just drop it into the new, larger pot. Something made me stop, though, and take a closer look. The bottom of the bulb was moving. It was a sea of motion. It was a crazy vortex of motion. It was a colony of ants that I had now disrupted. Thousands upon thousands of ants that had made the roots of this particular jasmine plant their home and they were in panic mode. They swarmed, trying to get their eggs and their numbers to safety…
It was about then, when I was still trying to process what I was witnessing and how best to deal with it, that I noticed that along with the ants, a nest of spiders had made the pot their home. At first glance, they looked like black widows. And I spent much of the day believing they were. I will save you the stress that I endured and let you know that they were not, in fact, black widows, but a lovely little sub-species known as false widows. A recent import from Europe (the perk of living next to a port city) that were first spotted in the United States near the Kingdom back in 2011. So, now you know. They were not black widows. Keep in mind, however, that I believed they were….
They were everywhere. Big ones. Little ones. And they were all moving so fast. I set the plant down and started squishing them. Normally I try to save spiders. They are good pest controllers. They keep flies and mosquitos at bay. They aren’t as dangerous as they seem. Yadda yadda. That stops when it comes to widows. I grew up in the desert. I know they are dangerous. Plus, the little princes play in the backyard. I can’t have spiders like that around my children. With that in mind, after I’d killed all the ones I could see, I moved the pot into the alley behind our house. Killed a few more and then went back for the plant.
The ants were still swarming at the bulb. I didn’t want them to decide to completely relocate into another plant in my backyard or into my house, so I grabbed it and moved it all into the alley too. The plant on its side, ants swarming around the root bulb. The pot next to it, ants swarming all over it too and still the occasional spider popping out of a hiding place and crawling along it. I squished a couple more spiders while I tried to figure out what to do next.
And that’s when I felt something on my arm.
And I looked down.
And a spider the size of a quarter was on the underside of my arm.
I should mention at this point that the Little Prince was a trooper for this whole process. He thought the ants were fascinating. He helped make sure my walkways were clear. He was on the lookout for spiders and helped me spot some I’d missed. He was great.
I killed the spider on my arm before it could bite me. I don’t even remember how. I know I didn’t squish it against me. I must have crushed it somehow. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever moved that fast or will ever move that fast again.
Suffice it to say that I needed a break at that point. The queen came home shortly thereafter. The Littler Prince woke up. We all enjoyed some calm time safely inside while we ate lunch and talked about what to do next. Because we needed a game plan. I had started the morning unprepared but I was not going to clean up this mess I had now created without some sort of better tactics. Knowledge is power and all that. Okay, we had an ant problem and we had a spider problem. The internet was full of great advice. I called my Aunt who is a gardening expert and chatted it up with her. When we returned outside, we were ready to face this challenge together.
Then, of course, we found that the ants on the root bulb of the Jasmine had completely relocated. Poof. Gone. Who knows where. While we were inside, they packed up and left… I’m sort of glad about that. That was one less thing to worry about. However, at the same time, I’m sad I missed it. That would have been cool to see! Also, from a gross-out stand point, now I have no idea where they went!!!
Okay, but the ant problem took care of itself. That left only the spiders to deal with.
I’m going to try not to exaggerate here. At this point I had killed 14 spiders that I’d thought were black widows. Including the one that was on my arm. And there were still more on the pot.
I’ve never seen so many in one place before.
They day was still young, however…
We successfully repotted the plants and everything else with that project went smoothly. Since I’d already made a huge mess of the yard, I decided it was time to tackle another project I’d been putting off because of the mess and because of the heat.
When the Queen and I moved into our home, I built her an above-ground garden box, so she could have some flowers and plants and other growing things on our otherwise tiled patio. The Little Prince turned that garden box, when we he came along, into his very own sand box. The Littler Prince had furthered that endeavor until nothing could grow in there anymore… because it was full of trucks and shovels and buckets and sticks and rocks and broken toys and pinecones and and and and. While they got endless hours of playtime out of it, it always made such a giant mess that then got tracked into the house that the decision had been made to tear it down.
So, I began the process of doing just that. I emptied it of its toys, soil and dirt. I took the sides off it. There were spiders that got squished. There was dry rot from the termites that had called it home. None of that was really a problem though. I knew that once I turned it over, to take the boards that acted as its legs and lifted it away from the tile, that I would find another mess of spiders. I knew it. I went in prepared!!
I was not prepared.
There were so many spiders. Big ones. Little ones. Fast ones. And every single one of them scary looking.
I set about squishing them again. The Queen kept the kiddos at a safe distance and they all helped me spot the ones I couldn’t see. And I dismantled the garden box completely.
But now I had a pile of wood and I knew there were still spiders in it. There had to be. There were just so many of them… And I needed to get that pile off my patio and into a trash can. But how? How could I do that without risking coming into contact with more spiders?
There answer was, I couldn’t?
I was as careful as I could be. I looked at every piece before I picked it up. I squished everything that moved. I checked my gloves constantly. I checked my hand placements. I was vigilant. And before the task was done I’d ended up with another spider on my arm. Somehow the Queen was able to squish it before it could bite me too. She was lightning fast. She’s amazing like that.
I was done. Nerves shot. Mind shot. Done.
Somehow we managed to finish the project, clean up the patio, clean up ourselves, and it all looks really good now. The backyard looks so much better and should be so much less messy than it has been. These are all good things. But!! But I’m jumping at every shadow, every slight twitch of movement, everything that could possibly be another spider crawling toward me. Every muscle spasm is something biting me. Every wisp of air running over my skin is something on me.
Aside from the disappearing ant colony, I think I killed more than 30 spiders. I thought they were all black widows until much later that night when I finally felt well enough to do some research and then using the markings I saw on some of them I was able to identify them as false widows. That helped me calm down some but not a lot. All of those spiders were still out in my backyard, at times inches away from where my children play. I don’t know that there is a solution for that. The patio is tidier now and there will be fewer places for spiders to hide, so maybe the risk of running into that kind of situation again is less… Or, maybe we just pissed them all off and they are going to seek their revenge…
And that’s my story…