Simon Wood

Hump Day: Wild Kingdom—Part One: Julie, Will This Kill Me?

On occasion, conversations will start like this in our house. “Julie, will this kill me?”

“No, that’s a daddy longlegs.”

“What about this?”

“That’s a twig, Simon.”

The problem is that there aren’t any dangerous animals in England. Obviously, there’s the fabled beast of Bodmin Moor, which hasn’t been bestial in twenty years or so. There are adders but I’ve never seen one. There’s a slow worm, which is technically a snake but is the kind of snake that gets sand kicked in its face at the beach, hence the reason it’s called a worm. Not to say there isn’t a chance you’ll come across a frog with a switchblade or a hedgehog with a hand grenade. As Ian Brown says in his song (but for entirely different reasons) “There are no lions in England.” This is probably why there isn’t much hunting in the UK–although as a side note, last year, the British government authorized the culling of 20,000 hedgehogs. Many a proud hunter went home with a hedgehog strapped to the hood/bonnet of their car that week. Well, it made a difference from going home with them embedded in a tyre.

But America is different. There are plenty of creatures here that can do me harm. Every day is like a David Attenborough documentary. I’ve seen bears rip a car open and discovered they do sh*t in the woods, as do I when faced with a two ton brown bear. Obviously, bears are easy to spot and sport their dismemberment capability credentials like a badge of honor. Also, they don’t tend to hang around my neighborhood too much. But there are plenty of other predators that do. Like spiders. A black widow fell out the ivy I was trimming the other week.

I give these buggers a wide berth after an incident a few years back. One was in the house and Julie showed it to me so that I would know what to be scared of. How comforting. After she was finished showing me this lethal creature, she went to drop of it down the garbage disposal. I said, “No way.” I had visions of the damn thing growing after living off food scraps and bursting out during the night to get me. Julie’s next bright idea was to flush the black widow down the toilet. I wasn’t going for this one either. Spidey might be a good swimmer and I didn’t want it getting me in the end–if you know what I mean. After some discussion, we decided on drowning it. Julie pulled out a Tupperware container, filled it with water and we popped the spider in there and sealed the top. We expected a quick death. Instead we witnessed a desperate fight. The spider thrashed inside the container causing it to bounce across the kitchen counter. The water turned black. What that was about I don’t want to know. Two hours later, the thing went quiet in the Tupperware drowning room and we dumped the whole thing in the trash, too afraid to open it.

I wish black widows were the only spiders to worry about. I find many other brightly colored and scary looking arachnids wandering around the homestead, which usually ends with me saying, “Julie, will this kill me?”

And it’s not just at the house where things can get me. Last year, in the Berkeley hills, Royston and I came across a snake. In unison, we leaned over for a closer look. Before I could ask, “Julie, will this kill me?” The little snake raised his tail and rattled it. Both Royston and I reacted Scooby Doo style, screaming and jumping in the air. This outburst scared the rattler and he bolted just as quickly as us. So, if you come across a rattlesnake in the wild, just a tip that a large display of cowardice shames any self-respecting rattler into retreat.

I’m not free from airborne attack either. There are some fearsome looking birds of prey floating about. Royston once had a hawk dive-bomb him and steal a mouse that was darting around in front of him. I think Tippi Hendren scared me as a child as I won’t venture outside when the barbecue grill is going and the birds are circling.

I’m not anti-nature by any means. But I like the softer side of her. I want it to be very Disney where everyone gets along and everyone sings songs. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Only recently, a lizard bit me I was trying save from Streetcar. I accept that I shall have to remain content with never leaving the house without my pocket edition of Big Book of Things That Kill–California Edition–and calling out, “Julie, will this kill me?”

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