How I spent vacation saving but also drowning (more) spiders

Welcome to anyone reading after a post I wrote about accidentally drowning a spider got picked for Wordpress Discover. What a surprise that was, but no more surprising than when I accidentally on purpose drowned another spider this week though saved another just minutes before and am now wondering if it was somehow the same spider. There was also that spider I saved in the shower last week, but he was paler and clearly not related. I should probably craft a tiny life preserver with eight arm holes and keep it on me at all times, even in the shower.

The latest spider rescue and subsequent drowning started 12 years ago at a small inn in the Adirondacks which alluded to a view of the lake in its name though you had to crane your neck just so to imagine it. Cars rumbled by on a busy road separating the cottage from the lake and on the interstate just behind a thin layer of woods. It was not as peaceful as we’d imagined but the charming couple that had only recently bought and fixed up the place left baked goods in the room and lured us out each night with a campfire and s’mores. It was just me and my husband and our one daughter then. I took this picture of them at the far away lake.


This year we went back and the first thing we noticed was the For Sale sign out front. A different woman checked us into the same cottage, which felt smaller than we’d remembered and the bathroom smelled like body odor or ass depending on which one of us you asked, so we just kept the door closed. After settling in and wondering why the hell we’d come back, we headed down to the lake and attempted to recreate the beloved photo.



We can’t help it that the pier and ‘no trespassing’ sign were long gone. My husband could have stooped down but it would have seemed forced. We let our other kid stand in and no one is in a diaper or cowboy hat because we suck at re-creating old photographs from memory.

The spiders, though, well I’m getting to that. The cottage stay came with unlimited use of a kayak and canoe, which by the looks of both hadn’t been used in some time. We did our best to clean them both out of wolf spiders, but we missed one. I think it hid behind my youngest daughter’s seat cushion because I first noticed it climbing up the back of her rain jacket. It paused a bit on the top of her head like one would on the top of a mountain to take in the view and then kept going until it disappeared from view and onto what I assumed was her face.

You can’t just stand up in a tandem kayak. You can, as calmly as possible, urge your daughter, who is sometimes afraid of gnats, to “just bat it off with your hand”. You will still only be able to see the back of her head, which is further obscured by a hood, so you may feel like you’re instructing someone you can’t see where to wipe away a pesky glob of ketchup if ketchup were hairy and horrifying. You will be able to see that her hands are maddeningly still by her side and you will hear her terrified whimpers, so naturally you will shout the same instructions only louder. JUST BAT IT OFF. YOU HAVE TO BAT IT OFF.

The good news is this spider came round to her shoulder to see what all the yelling was about and I used the paddle to fling him into the water. I didn’t feel great about it, but I had no choice. The kayak mood was killed after that. We paddled back to shore and my older daughter said she noticed right away that something was wrong by her sister’s posture and face and how her hair covered her face. She hadn’t heard the yelling, oddly. After I explained about the spider, my younger daughter asked “There was a spider on me?” She had no idea what I was freaking out about, though assumed a bug or horrible monster.Those were her words, by the way. Freaking out. I need to work on my calm voice.

Can wolf spiders swim? I think they might be able to because I rescued one with the same paddle moments before we launched the kayak and it kind of seemed like it was already heading to shore. My husband claims he accidentally flung that one into the lake and I got pissy with him, though now wonder if I didn’t somehow rescue it right back into the kayak. Anyway, I drowned the other (or possibly same) spider. Nature can be surprisingly quick with the whole balance thing.

We stayed a few nights at the cottage and settled into the sound of trucks rumbling by and even the body odor/ass smell in the bathroom. No one coaxed us out for campfires and s’mores so my husband built a roaring one and we bought supplies at a store down the road. We only ever saw one of the owners. The other, it seemed, was no longer in the picture. I thought for longer than seemed sane about buying the inn and running it ourselves, but those days of infinite possibility and hope are over. I’m fine watching Fawlty Towers once a year (usually around Thanksgiving) and being reminded why running an inn is a terrible idea.

You can’t always go back. You can’t save a spider without drowning another one. You can’t fix things that are broken because sometimes they’re meant to be that way. It’s sad if you look at something broken in the usual way, but over time the picture might change into something different, surprising even.



Keeping busy

All the grand and great-grand children gather at my grandmother’s house. This hasn’t happened since, oh, so long ago that one of the kids wasn’t even born yet. Family math is complicated.

I keep thinking our visit is like a tornado, though not like the burst pipe and busted hot water heater that recently tore through her house. After we eat, I wash plates and glasses and move on to pick potato chip crumbs out of her kitchen carpet (carpet! in a kitchen!) and she shuffles behind and tells me to stop, that it will give her something to do this week. She keeps old messages on her answering machine and I wonder if crumbs on the floor are like that. Like, at any minute the party might start again.

These children are great, but it was my grandmother who filled the wheelbarrow.
On the phone later, my grandmother tells me she has to go out and break down the pizza boxes we put out by the garbage or the truck won’t take them. I picture her tottering at the curb with a tiny pair of sewing scissors – the only ones I ever seem to​ be able to find – and consider hanging up and driving hours to do it for her. Tomorrow she will vacuum the kitchen, she says. Or maybe this weekend.

It definitely won’t be tomorrow because tomorrow she has someone coming to look at a recliner chair she has been trying to give away. People hear free recliner and get excited, but I bet they don’t even know recliners were made back then. It’s even older than the console television set she’s hoping the recliner person also hauls away for her. I have a hard time imagining two burly men hoisting it above their shins.

My grandmother tells me they bought the TV in the early 70s after my parents bought theirs and she had to have one. She said they went to Luskins but my grandfather balked at the price, so she said it was her money too, even if she didn’t have quite enough of it. She said the fellas at Luskins didn’t give credit accounts to women back then, so she talked them into some kind of deal on paper and went home with her TV and stopped by with cash after work a few times. I have no idea how she got it home, but it’s only moved once since then and probably thought it was done.

About ten years ago, it started taking longer for the picture to appear. You’d turn the set on and see black or purple, maybe a zig-zag of rainbow at the edge of the screen, and my grandmother would say you just wait a minute. You’d wait a few minutes and get bored and put the kettle on and when you’d come back, Dynasty would be on the screen on some channel that probably didn’t even exist.

About five years ago, the picture stopped coming in at all, though the sound still worked. That poor old TV went blind and must have felt us scooting her across the room to a dim corner but thankfully never saw the wobbly Walmart flat screen that took her spot. Maybe the console set egged my 2 year-old nephew to pick up a cane and swing wildly in that direction. It’s possible.

When we all leave my grandmother’s house, we leave at once. It’s always like that. We finish our last minute tasks – my brother puts in a storm window, I check her smoke detector batteries – and depart in a parade of waves and honks until she turns to a tiny speck in the rearview mirror and disappears.

I feel guilty stopping at the reservoir a mile from her house, but the draw is stronger than guilt or desire to get home. The sun is setting and there are a handful of men fishing solo or in pairs. My girls and I walk a short path in the woods to get a better look and some pictures.
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When I talk to my grandmother on the phone two days later, I expect her to sound as exhausted as I still feel. Instead she sounds alert, invigorated. This, in fact, is when she tells me her plans to get rid of the bulky recliner and console and pizza boxes. I picture her hoisting them onto her back and dragging them into the distance until they turn to specks and disappear.


I have another confession to make. I’m gray as a mule. You might not know from the highlighted, touched up version of myself I put out there or because you’re not super tall like my husband, who notices my roots coming in before I do. So much for feminine illusions of dewy youth. I’m tired of the whole process myself.

Every three weeks, I have to do something or my hairline spreads thick with white. I’m like Pepe Le Pew, or more like his bewildered love interest. Why me? I’m sure it has nothing to do with genetics and the fact that my dad was gray since the day we met and my brother is gracefully headed that way. Why are men so much braver in this way? My husband grayed at the temples and sideburns and he truly does look distinguished. Doesn’t it just make you sick?

Do you know I’ve dyed my hair since college? I got my first gray at 14. My mom noticed it while french braiding my hair and plucked it out at my insistence. This must have been my fatal mistake. All the slumbering grays heard the battle cry and rose up. I have a distinct recollection of being described by a drunkard at a bar as having “stringy gray hair”. I was 24. In my memory, he also has stringy, gray hair because my memory is awesome and always has my back.

It’s all coming to a head now. Not only do I feel like I’m constantly dyeing or getting ready to dye, but the texture is all wrong. My poor hair is dry and lifeless, rightly exhausted from pretending to be a fun blonde. The gray hair underneath is wiry and coarse. It brays when I liberally condition and apply product, a word hairdressers are quite fond of in its vague invocation of miracle.

This is my first glimpse into getting older. I’m fighting myself from the root down and I don’t want to do that. I write all of this just before going upstairs to mix another batch of magic potion that will allow me to fool the world for 3 weeks. Then I’ll go online to google articles and tips from others who were brave enough to stop dyeing and transition over. I’ll probably start a Pinterest board with too many pictures of Emmylou Harris and Heloise.

Next month I turn 41. If I start to transition now, I can take advantage of the Steve Martin effect and age minimally over the next 20 years. At my 40 year reunion, people will say “you never seem to age!” They won’t know that even though I was terrified to look old, I was more terrified at the thought of fighting it for the rest of my life.

I think this is an album cover? It's also my new battle cry.
I think this is an album cover? It also makes a nice battle cry.

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