"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

02 November 2010

The Belly of Terror

I confess to getting a little excited when the latest issue of National Geographic shows up in the post. Yes, I am geeky like that. Despite not being a joiner, I am, indeed, a card carrying member of the National Geographic Society. Once a month, no matter how tragic, with that little periodical, it seems, I am guaranteed a story from Africa. Sometimes even sharks.

I bought my subscription because it was cheaper than picking it up month-to-month at the stands. It satisfies my scientific bents and curiosities as well as my armchair travels. And the photos...damn. A friend of mine used to say there are but a few photographers in the world; amateurs, professionals, those who want to work for the Nation Geographic Society, and those who really do.

There was the photograph of the sand tiger shark, and a notation how its young will cannibalize one another whilst inutero. Only the strong survive. A fascinating animal. These are beings of one of the oldest orders. Like reptiles and spiders.

Sabina shrinks at the sight of a spider. I know her intolerable hatred comes from a widow bite when she was very young. One friend told a story of a camp-mate dying from spider bites. Others I know are terrified by those creatures' movements. Those many legs moving all at once in some alien fashion, just like those many eyes staring up at you.

And yet, try and grasp the fear some of Grandmother Spider's children see with eight eyes, beholding a half-bald primate, hundreds of times bigger, trying to kill them for no real reason other than alien-ness...

Yes, some species of spiders have potent neurotoxins within their fangs. Venom, which can drop a monkey. Some, more quickly than others. So do some species of snakes, creatures that scare the fuck out my brother and father. A bee sting could maybe have the same effect on me because of an allergy, and yet Sabina fears a stinging insect around me more than I. Odd.

A bee, spider, or snake has poison. Fine. It can't eat you. A shark can.

As much as they fascinate me, sharks terrify me. The knowledge that creature could eat me; millions of years of perfect evolution crunching painfully down, and still being alive to watch. Preying...begging...for death before seeing the belly of the beast. There are other predators of the same capability; crocodiles, great cats, bears, and none of them can bring to bear the same abject terror I feel watching a shark documentary with rapt attention.

There is only one other order of creature, removed from the kingdoms of animals or even plants, capable of the beautifully efficient torture of a shark's bite. It is far, far smaller than a creepy-crawly spider. That would be a virus.

It is something I picked up from back when I screened thousands upon thousands of potential organ and tissue donors. This being, invisible to human eyes, can ravage a body; devouring from within, destroying flesh, bone, and tissue. Turning one's blood to poison. A level of torture that'd get Dante, Spanish inquisitors, witch hunters, and Nazi death-doctors to cross their legs and blush.

These are things I have learned. Both from experience and reading National Geographic. I can view my fears and fascinations once a month for the fee of a subscription. And I cannot...I will not...look away.

I realize my shark fear is not exactly rational. After all, I live nine-thousand one-hundred sixty feet above the surface of the world's oceans. It would take me at least a day to reach a coastline, depending on how I traveled. That doesn't make it go away. Be that as it may, I realize it for what it is, and do not allow myself to be in its thrall. As much as they terrify me, I am fascinated by sharks.

For that reason, in the end, I cannot begrudge anyone who fears spiders, despite the size difference. Still, I hold out hope that those, like Sabina or some of my other friends, can at least realize their fear is not rational and let it go. That perhaps, in not being in the thrall of that terror, they can, like me, learn a respect, if not fascination, for that, which scares them so.

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