Monday, June 16, 2014

The willies

I use the word "scared" in two different ways when it comes to animals.

The first encompasses how I feel about the occasional dog, running at me snarling, or perhaps ferociously barking in a sudden way just on the other side of some fence I am walking by, then hurling itself at the fence all growling and gnashing its teeth in its desperation to break through and rip apart my flesh. This makes me scared. Then it makes me wish that the dog's owner will get cancer and die, but only because, as a wise person, I have softened my feelings towards them from something natively harsher. I have also been known to be scared of bears, particularly at night, when I am all neatly packaged in my tent like a nice midnight snack and horses are screaming in unearthly terror nearby. When this happens my friend Grape and I go hide for a few hours in the primitive campground's porta potty, which does not smell great, but has a comforting exoskeleton.

Speaking of exoskeletons, this kind of fear with dogs and bears and such is not the same as the way I am afraid of, or scared of, spiders. Their strange eyes and crushing mouth, their jerking, madly efficient, staccato, eight-legged movement, oddly influenced by having their innards seemingly attached to an invisible line, their patience and exploding bursts of attack or flight, it all gives me the willies.

The difference can perhaps also be illustrated in how I have been friends with dogs, or in how I might be scared of a dog, but, once reassured, could, to prove how tough I am, give the same dog who scared me a little skirtch behind the ear and talk babytalk to it. I don't do this after I have calmed down from a spider dropping down to in front of my face. I have never given a spider any kind of a skirtch. The closest I have come is whacking the spider with a book, which, you should know, is not at all close to skirtching, in case you are feeling a bit affectionate towards something and were looking for fresh ideas. Scared as I have been of bears I have also spent an amiable couple hours rummaging around with two very large black bears on a remote beach in British Columbia. I'm sure I was a bit scared of them the whole time, but I also liked them, which is not a feeling I have ever held towards a centipede, outside of the charming, fictional ones in jokes and cartoons.

Here is another differentiation: provided the right context someone could tell me about being scared of any animal and if it's specific, and physically fear based, I can usually understand, but if it's willie based, I can't. I am not afraid of giraffes in any way, for instance, but if someone told me they were on safari enjoying the sight of the pretty giraffes when one suddenly charged them, in a fierce and alarmingly big way, I might get the picture. I would figure that I'd have been scared in that situation also (but afterwords would surely have rubbed the giraffe's tummy). But if the person was going on about the giraffes' creepy long necks and how their eyelashes freak them out, I'd just be lost. And that's the thing about the willies, other people's phobias are quite alien to us. Spiders are disturbing, but snakes? So smooth and delightfully slithery! Someone told me of a bird phobia they had once. How can I empathize with that? Sympathize, sure, but what a different emotional language of the brain than my own!

And yet, though the boundaries of the willies seem so impermeable, sometimes, mysteriously, they disappear, and brief glimpses of other understandings take their place. I love the squirrels of my neighborhood and, having no pecan crop to protect, delight in their antics. But a couple days ago I was walking to get a bike when I came upon a neighbor's yard that for some reason had two dozen squirrels messing about in it. As I came up to it all the squirrels scrambled over the sidewalk in front of me and raced over each other and onto a nearby tree. It was a little river of squirrels and evoked a kind of primal rodent horror in me; oh the clatter of their toenails, their bodies swarming over and under each other, yeesh! The willies!

And a day or two later I sat outside and saw a spider in the grass. I don't think it was hunting. It was minding its own business. It seemed delicate, quiet, lovely. It moved gracefully. It had so many perfect legs. Such an odd moment for me. I felt I could almost skirtch it behind the ears. Only, thankfully, it was too little for that.


  1. For me it's horses, those sublimely beautiful beasts that mean so much to so many people. To me they are large and they bite my brother when he's in high school, and they fly in some cases and in others have long poles sticking from their snouts. Sometimes four of them gather and end the world. Although....

    a few days ago I heard a knock on the door and it was my son't girlfriend and her horse our in my yard. The horse was eating our terrible grass (don't try it!) and rather shy and lovely. I touched it between the ears. Nothing bad happened, but I did wash my hands with soup and hot water.

    1. I means to say soap and water, but I like soup and water better, so dear Editor, please leave as written.

    2. I meant to say "meant". So, please start who sentence above with "meant" instead of "means". I think touching the horse has increased my typos.

    3. I understand. When I spart to spalk about spiders my spelling gobs all spideways!

  2. The advantage of my misunderstanding about the demise (not) of your blog, is that I now have a nice big pile of entries to read. It will take me a while, but you are back on my Favorites list, and I WILL catch up.


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