An essay by Eve West Bessier, Poet Laureate Emerita of Silver City and Grant County, New Mexico
On this 20th commemoration of the horrific events of 9/11 in 2001, I dedicate this essay to the memory of all victims of that tragedy, which includes all of us at some level. We all have our own stories of how that morning affected our personal lives. It heavily impacted our communal well-being.
Our collective well-being is now under attack from a different kind of threat, as we continue to deal with the trauma of a pandemic that holds us in its grip without clear understanding of when things might be normal again, if ever.
I wish us all strength and courage moving forward. Don’t worry, the following essay still contains my signature quirky humor and some lightness of heart. We can certainly use that right about now.
Why Did the Tarantula Cross the Road?
Driving in our neighborhood, my partner spots something crossing the street up ahead. I see it too, it looks very arachnid.
“That’s a tarantula!” my partner says.
I’m not so sure I share his enthusiasm. He stops the car, and we get out to take a closer look. My curiosity is mixed with the willies.
The male tarantula creeping along in the middle of the road is expressing its instinctual drive to search out a female. He is apparently convinced that she lives across the street, a life-threatening inconvenience as he blends so well with the asphalt.
He is mostly black with a surprising red-orange thorax that sticks out like the jacked-up rear end of a Chevy Chevelle cruising for action. He is skinny and long-legged, like a gangly human male adolescent, and probably just as horny.
The odds of satisfaction are not on his side. A male tarantula is unable to successfully mate until he reaches a molting stage that happens only once in his lifetime, when he is ten to twelve years old, not quite a teenager. Mating will be his final enterprise. He will die directly afterwards. A high price to pay for the propagation of his species!
We watch this young male creep toward his destination. With eight legs, he must be able to put it into overdrive, but he just ambles until he is safely into the roadside grasses. Even if he finds a female, he doesn’t look old enough to have molted to the task.
A few days later I see a tarantula again, in about the same location, possibly the same spider. He’s apparently still courting and by an elegance of chance, still alive.
I’ve learned that male tarantulas go in search of mates every monsoon season, and not just in our neighborhood where the streets are narrow and not well-traveled. Tarantulas are on the march all over the desert southwest. I saw several much larger ones crossing Little Walnut, a two-lane road with a largely ignored 35 mph speed limit. Getting to the other side there is a much more risky enterprise, yet off they go across the pavement.
It’s an old question, isn’t it? “Why did the chicken cross the road?” You know the standard answer. “To get to the other side.”
The more important question might be, what does the chicken think is on the other side that isn’t available where the chicken is currently standing?
The answer to that question is not so straightforward. What’s the draw? Why are we always trying to get to the other side, where we believe the grass is greener, life is sweeter and dreams hold the promise of fulfillment in ways we are convinced our current side of the road doesn’t hold a glimmer of hope to offer?
Humans have been migrating for millennia, following game herds, looking for mates who aren’t first cousins, escaping harsh climates and brutal neighbors.
We are still migrating for essentially the same reasons, though in our modern times our primary migrations move us from rural to urban environments. Once we find the Euphrates valley of fertile economics, we hunker down and hope no invading hordes descend to steal our stuff.
Maybe if we were more aware of how much crossing back and forth and back again we’ve already done, we’d become less territorial about the side of the road we want to claim at the moment. After all, neither side actually belongs to any of us.
In a truly fluid society we would know how to share and how to relinquish our stubborn propensity to call everything mine, or at least to make the boundary of our territorial markings less aggressive and more humbly sustainable.
It appears to be our deep seeded and instinctual need to seek out fresh opportunities, but why can’t we figure out how to satisfy that need without having to conquer, and at many times throughout our history, kill each other to satisfy it?
Is the drive purely pumped by an evolutionary survival of the fittest hierarchy? Watch any nature documentary and the screen is quickly filled with one creature eating another. The whole Darwinian theory right there in technicolor as you munch your buttered popcorn while the mandibles of the larger insect crunch the exoskeleton of the smaller one. I’ve stopped mixing food consumption with watching nature shows.
Can we at least try to rise above the crudest programming of our predatory nature? I hope so, but it’s a slow crawl to the other side of the road, fraught with danger and probable demise.
At the moment, collectively as a species, we are all still trying to cross the daunting highway of COVID-19, and it’s already 2021 heading rapidly towards 2022.
Those who are now vaccinated will likely make it safely to the other side, though no one knows how far away that other side might be, and even with the vaccine onboard, there is still a slight chance of contracting the Delta variant. Some will make it across by making it through. COVID-19 leaves lasting scars, so gaining immunity in this way is a harsh ride. The impersonal semi-truck of this pandemic has already killed close to five-million people world-wide. These victims didn’t make it safely to the other side at all.
Viruses are an ancient phenomenon. Their origins remain scientifically obscure, and there’s even a theory that they came here frozen in the ice of asteroids that fell to the Earth’s surface millions of years ago. Viruses are aggressive. Not unlike Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan, they like to invade, and they learn quickly to change their tactics with each advance.
What can we do?
Like the stoic little arachnid, moving one leg in front of the other seven, we need to keep on keeping on. Avoid heavy traffic. Stay away from busy intersections! Or, we could stay on our own side of the road, safely tucked away in our nest beneath a thick mesh of shimmering web until the threat has passed, but the threat isn’t passing quickly.
So, here we are, dancing at this masked ball for a lot longer than we’d hoped. A lot longer. I wrote the original draft of this essay a year ago and it’s still relevant today with minimal edits.
Regardless of our diligence and in defiance of our instinctual fear of death, at some point we will all need to take courage and face the stats. We will need to don our best Billy the Kid attire, a red bandana tied over our noses (on top of an effective N95 mask, of course!) and a ragged Stetson set at a cocky angle on our noggins. We will need to look COVID-19 in the eye without blinking, bolster our best immune response with the help of the vaccines, and run with a warrior’s whoop across the highway!
Safe travels, my friends, to the other side of the road!
Scroll down to About The Author for more information and check out Eve’s website at: www.jazzpoeteve.com