As one travels through the Great Basin at this time of year one moves not only through space but also through the seasons. Climate correlates with elevation. In the hot desert it remains summer or something like it. In the foothills of the high mountains and the passes of the desert ranges it is truly autumn. Winter embraced the high peaks weeks ago, the world consisting mostly of snow and ice-covered stones.
So it came as something of a surprise as I descended from one of these desert mountain passes and rounded a bend to find a tarantula standing in the middle of the road. I easily missed it, came to a stop and returned to it. The skies were gray, the temperature brisk, and the tarantula was sluggish from the cold. The next passing vehicle would undoubtedly crush it. I grabbed a short stick and, with one eye on the road and the other on the imposing creature, attempted to hurry it to safety. This did not make the tarantula happy. It reared and attempted to resist. Having never previously experienced an angry tarantula, this evoked an interesting and involuntary response. But I could not delay. I could hear a vehicle beginning to descend from the pass. My warm blood, slightly superior size, and deft stick handling carried the moment. The tarantula and I made it off the road just as the speeding truck rushed past. My full attention was with the spider but I heard the vehicle slow, pull off the road, and then turn around. My tarantula wrangling had not passed unnoticed.
Three of us stood around the creature and marveled. I lowered my hand just above it in an attempt to measure it. With its outspread legs it was the size of my palm, perhaps a bit larger. This closeness made my audience murmur uncomfortably. I stood and we attempted to pool our knowledge. Collectively we knew nothing about tarantulas. I thought it curious to find a cold-blooded nocturnal creature in the cold gray light of an autumn afternoon. One of the watchers had encountered several of these beasts in the lower elevations a few weeks previously and had been told that it was their mating season. “So,” he opined, “I’m sure that’s why it’s out now. It’s the male mating season.” I let this fascinating and previously unknown insight into spider sexuality pass without comment. But as I drove away, the tarantula standing on the cold damp dirt at the side of the road, I was reminded once again of how big a world we live in and of how little I really do know.