Arach No Phobia

at 12:35 AM

I've always been terrified of creepy crawlers. When I moved to the Bay Area, my husband and I went to Mount Diablo for a hike in the fall where my ultimate spider nightmare came to life. On our way to the summit, a black shape crossed the road in front of the car. "What was that?" I yelled. That was a big black hairy tarantula.

From that day, I wrote Mount Diablo off my fall adventures. But I didn't want my kids to grow up arachno-impaired like me. So last year I finally faced my demons. With my 5 and 6-year-olds in tow, I joined a Tarantula Trek at Mount Diablo. I dreamed that by the end of the day I'd be cured of my arachnophobia. I was terrified, of course.

At the Mitchell Canyon trailhead, a docent showed us her Chilean Rose tarantula called Isabella, a hairy beast big as a plate. I wanted to run away but I stayed. Be careful when you hold that tarantula, the docent said. They are fragile. Their legs break easily when they fall. She explained that and much more. Tarantulas, it turns out, are vulnerable and have a delicate life cycle. It hit me that they were just regular animals in the wild with a really bad reputatation for being hairy. Truth is, they are no more dangerous than a bee.

The docent let us hold Isabella. I couldn't, but after everybody had taken a turn, even my reluctant 6-year-old jumped on the tarantula petting zoo bandwagon. My little girl giggled. The tarantula was so light it felt ticklish on her hands! Then she petted her soft fur like she would a kitten.

That day completely changed my mind about tarantulas. Two weeks later we encountered a wild tarantula along Lake Del Valle and I was the first to protect the spider while she crossed the trail. Me, the formerly arachno-impaired person.

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This fall is the time to join a tarantula trek. Rather than fear them as nasty movie villains, you'll learn to respect and protect our furry California crawlers.

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With a Perspective, I'm Laure Latham.

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