When Brad McDonald, famous Vancouver “bug wrangler” showed up at my door in 2000 with a tarantula in tow I started getting the creeps. And when I photographed McDonald in my living room with the spider moving up his neck the shudders that went through me reminded me of the Colonel so many years back in 1963. I felt I could not tell McDonald the story and quickly took the shots so I could be rid of his bug.
I was never afraid of bugs and spiders and even today I share an interest in them with Rebecca who scours my garden in the summer looking for bugs. She overturns rocks and peers into my roses in search of excitement. But I draw the line at tarantulas. Perhaps it all began in 1963 when I showed up at a pensión in Mexico City. I was going to the University of the Americas and I needed a place to stay. This particular pensión was run by a French family so the food was exceptional. The only problem was the other boarder. He was a lean retired USMC Colonel from Carlsbad, California who immediately told me, “Call me, Colonel, breakfast is at 6.” I soon found out that this was not quite true. I woke up at 6 to find out that our first order of business was to run around the block several times and we then did what the Colonel called calisthenics. It involved chin ups and countless pushups. It didn’t take me long to find out that our diet was previously vetted by the Colonel. For a year I lived in a clandestine boot camp and I was perhaps as fit as I ever was.
The Colonel had other clandestine activities in his past. He had instructed the hill tribes of Laos and Vietnam, the Montagnards in the art of anti guerrila warfare. He had also pioneered, so he told me, the idea of using helicopters as gun ships. In his mellow (very rare) periods he would summon me to his room and show me photographs of places I had never suspected that existed. One such picture showed him standing by a huge stone jar and he told me about the Plane of Jars. It was in one of these mellow periods when the Colonel, with an almost smile on his face, confessed to me that the sight of a spider made him freeze on this tracks. “I can face anything except a spider,” he told me and then proceededmem to explain with a luxury of detail (he was using his GI Bill to pursue a career in writing) how a spider’s legs were independent of each other. Perhaps unknowingly I had come to admire this gentle but fierce man and I too became afraid of spiders.
One day he told me ( a wonderful vision that has remained with me all these years), “We were on patrol in the jungle with a bunch of Montagnards when we spied on a young woman eating a mango on her stomach. She was casually savouring her fruit while a man on top of her was doing his thing. It was a hell of a sight, they were so independent of each other.”
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.