The long reach of the tarantula, a last breath and lavendula farming

It being a fine day for the purpose I resolved to undertake some minor work in the garden. God was clearly in her heaven.’Thank you Jan.’ I said softly, but with considerable sincerity. You see, I believe that God is a woman, named Jan. Why not? When challenged on the matter by the skeptics I always say that the possibility of a female deity, at least, should not be ignored. Of course, I regard Jan as a God for all seasons. One who tends to take an interest in the affairs of everyone. But, I digress.

This morning, one of my self-appointed tasks was to adjust the fairy lights I strung across the roof of our arbour at the start of the festive period. We call it the ‘Arbour Tunnel’ in honour of those amazing watertight constructions that run under Sydney Harbour. Catchy eh? Anyway, said fairy lights are solar powered (big tick) and the collector sits atop the arbour so as to maximise it’s solar collecting potential. I stood on a plastic milk crate (surely one of Jan’s greatest gifts to person kind) and proceeded to unscrew the base of the collector. To my utter surprise I found the narrow, confined space was occupied by a large tarantula* (*Latin for effing big spider). Said beastie was also taken on the hop so it fled from view leaving me with a trembling hand and an empty collector. After I got the standard expletive out of the way, I proceeded to adjust the switch which will make the lights dance. The ‘Terry’, that’s what we call them in these parts, had retreated only a short distance and was busy looking harmless on a nearby section of lattice. Keeping one eye on the Terry I returned its abode to its usual position.

As I stepped back onto terra firma I had the rather strange inclination to wonder what sex the spider was. How do you work out such things? I supposed you just peer between the legs but which ones? Perhaps the very back pair? My next thought was to imagine what a spider’s landing gear might look like? After five minutes I decided to cease wondering and get on with my chores. Then I remembered that professional chicken sexers often suffer from short-sightedness as a result of the demands of their calling. I don’t know if there is a chicken sexers’ compensation fund. Maybe spider sexers can progress to sexing chickens after serving a sort of apprenticeship?

After one last look at the Terry (still pretending to be a very still spider), I tackled the lavender. Lavender or lavendula is a delightful plant. It flowers (magnificent purple flares) and it provides lovely oil. A waving field of lavender is a sight to behold. Yesterday we visited a lavender farm at Wandin Yallock on the edge of the Yarra Valley. My main interest was in seeing how their plants were grown and maintained. A secondary interest was lunch. Before dining we tried the strawberry and lavender jam, the lavender honey, the lavender mustard and the lavender marmalade. All were judged to be ‘Yum Oh’. We ordered foccachias, salads and coffee. Then we had the lavender ice cream. ‘Sensational’. I purchased a couple of plants and we boarded the waiting SUV as the tourist hoards began to arrive. A brilliant diversion and a splendid excuse for a drive in the countryside.

Back to today. As my nerves returned to normal, I unlocked my garden shed and began to assemble the tools I would need for lavender maintenance and planting. I noted that the shed seemed to be devoid of Terries. This was a good thing. But as I happily hoed the clay dominated soil my thoughts returned to the Terry. What was it doing now? Forget it, said the little cricket that sits on my shoulder. No, I insisted. I have to see. You are on your own then, said the cricket. I swiftly crossed the yard and stealthily positioned myself close to where I had last seen the spider. It was happily engaged in ripping apart an unfortunate butterfly which it quickly devoured. Piece by piece. Yuck! As it sat (upside down) and possibly doing little spider burps or even farts, the Terry showed no signs of returning to its home. I cringed and wondered if I had awoken a monster that was now bent on wreaking havoc on the hapless insect life of the garden? The spider version of Godzilla, incarnate! I shook my head and resolved to get back to the lavender.

One half hour later all was complete. The new plants had been placed to best advantage and the old ones protected by a shallow trench. They don’t like wet feet, you know. Flushed with success I headed down to the house in search of a cold, cordial drink; just reward for my labours. On my way back up to put the tools away I remembered that I had walked underneath the spider’s perch without thinking. I went cold with the thought that the bloody thing might have jumped me and exacted revenge. Such events can change a man! Unarmed and totally alert I crept beneath Shelob’s lair. She, It or He was still there, staring at me. Spiders are inscrutable. I took a deep breath and shot past like a really fast thing.

As I mopped my brow on the bench beneath the trees I was reminded of another recent experience involving a deep breath. A few weeks ago we were in Tassie; the Apple Isle that is the apple of the eye of many people. One sunny afternoon, we visited historic Richmond. Located just north of Hobart, it is a pleasant place that retains a number of Georgian buildings and structures from Australia’s time as a convict colony. Among other things, there is Australia’s oldest bridge and Catholic church. A couple of pubs and numerous old homes. There is also Richmond Gaol, made of sandstone and featuring an ancient almond tree. It beckoned to me like an experienced tart.

There is a central courtyard around which are arrayed the male and female cellblocks, the guards’ quarters and the superintendent’s residence. In an age when we still argue about equality of the sexes, I was pleased to see that there were exactly eight solitary cells for girls and eight for boys. All were about a metre wide by three metres high and two metres deep. Lined with rotting planks of timber (top, sides and bottom) the accommodation in the ‘coolers’ was far from luxurious. I read that the average stay was 21 nights for an offence like insubordination. Two minutes with the door shut was enough for me. Worst of all, the darkness was heavy, sad and a bit on the wrong side of menacing. I kept my iPhone on, but the feeble green light did little to assuage my fears.

Like a man reprieved on the gallows I left the cellblock and entered a small walled yard that contained a flogging triangle and a very realistic recording of an actual flogging. I listened to it twice before deciding that was enough. Suddenly a grey cloud obscured the sun and as I stood still in the small walled yard I heard a deep breath. But there was nobody else there. I glanced about and as I did so, I heard the same sound again. Was it the flagellator taking a breather? Or, was it his victim gasping in pain? I don’t know, but I was relieved to find myself in the souvenir shop. That is, I was relieved until I saw the replica cat-o-nine-tails. I left without making a purchase and headed for the gaiety of the pub and a steadying pint.

Shelob was still on watch when I headed back to the house after returning the tools to the shed. I have decided that a tarantula has a long reach. It can manipulate your thoughts long after any physical encounter. I am now going to give my mind over to the idiot box and hope to escape the spider’s clutches.

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