This Side Up

You never know who’s going to come along for the ride


I’m not accustomed to having stowaways on my morning paddles.

Really there’s no room for travelers on an Alden Star, a 21-foot rowing scull not much wider than my butt. But then my passenger was no bigger than a fly and I wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t been so inquisitive.

The bay was a steel salmon hue, with the sun’s glow silhouetting the Barrington shore. Conditions couldn’t have been better. It was calm with a light whisper out of the north. And it was cooler than usual, the temperature in the 50s.

I barely left a wake. The swirls of each stroke stretched behind me like parallel fading footsteps.

I found myself thinking of the day ahead and what I hoped to accomplish. But then a tiny creature interrupted my train of thought. I imaged the world from its perspective. Here was a flat environment – the long transom of the boat – devoid of vegetation or other forms of life, as far as I could tell. On both sides the water rushed by and, in front of him, was this giant form rhythmically moving back and forth and puffing like a steam engine.

Of course, it’s doubtful that my passenger was aware of its precarious situation or that he had the attention of another living being.

But he had my interest. For starters, he was pink. I haven’t seen many pink spiders. This one had a bulbous body with stick-like legs that had him stepping high. He moved deliberatively from the stern of the boat, heading straight for my feet, held securely by Velcro straps. Could the ripe smell of my water shoes have attracted him? He marched forward as if on a mission.

I thought of my options. I could stop rowing and brush him off. I could let him keep coming and wonder if after exploring the water shoes he would proceed and walk up my leg. Or, as I decided, I could continue watching.

As if he understood – maybe it was a whiff of the shoes – he diverted his course and angled off to the narrow aluminum bar that secures the outrigger for the oars. This was a daring move, over open water that ended at the oarlock. The oarlock is hardly a secure place either. It’s the point where my energy was focused before transferring to the blades to propel me forward. He would be squished in an instant if he weren’t careful.

The spider didn’t stop coming, even though I turned and now was headed home. I was rowing with the gentle wind; the sun had risen and it was warmer.

My little friend apparently understood the enormity of the situation. He stopped about four inches from the oarlock, as if trying to decide whether to retreat. Then from his abdomen, a silk hair glistened in the sunlight. The gossamer thread waved in the wind, growing ever longer. The spider was airborne. He bridged the oarlocks and was now on the shaft of the outrigger, headed to the middle of the boat. And then he disappeared.

There was no creepy feeling of something crawling up my arm and when I lifted the boat from the water, he wasn’t seen. Maybe he was back on land.

He wasn’t seen the following morning. It was an equally calm day with a sliver of a new moon in the heavens. Again, I had company and it wasn’t the kind of companion I cared for.

Its dark form hovered, waiting for the perfect moment. It was a big mosquito. I applied pressure to the oars, thinking I could outrace him. He dipped and bobbed in the turbulence but wasn’t dissuaded. He was inches from my face. Swatting him would mean taking my hand off an oar, not advisable in a tipsy craft.

Then it was gone. I checked my bare legs. No mosquito. He wasn’t perched on my arms either.

At first I thought I was seeing a piece of lint, but then realized the mosquito was getting a ride on the bill of my cap. Maybe my nose was his target. I didn’t want to find out. I tried directing a stream of air upward but he didn’t budge. He was waiting for his moment.

Where, I thought, was my spider when I needed him?


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