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Never Met a Stranger: Holding still

T.W. Burger

So, there I was, sneaking around the kitchen garden with my camera, looking for things to shoot.

In this case, I was shooting wildflowers and vegetables.

Usually, I’m looking for birds, but some days I’m better at photography that others, Veggies and flowers, for example, are good at holding still.

When I was a teen, I was an aspiring artist. I worked part-time at a local funeral home.

My dad got me the job. Most of my high school friends spent their time working at service stations, learning basic mechanics. Dad got me the gig at the funeral home, where I learned to stay calm around sick and injured people, and how to embalm.

My buddies became pretty fair mechanics; handy skills to have.

I, on the other hand, never found a lot of use for knowing how to embalm, though I’m pretty calm around the deceased.

As I said, I was a budding artist, and comfortable in the quiet company of the dead. I would practice sketching in the embalming room. Some of my fellow morticians found that odd, or even horrifying. Their attitude was strange, and I said so.

They asked me why I wasn’t scared. Dead people, I thought it important to explain, are not known to attack you outside of bad Hollywood movies. They hold real still, which is a good thing when you’re trying to learn to draw.

The funeral homeowner would not let me pose the dearly departed around the room, but one has to make allowances.

“It’s those live ones you have to watch out for,” I explained further. This was a long time ago and all the funeral homes also operated their own ambulance services, so we all had plenty of practical experience in bad behavior.

Anyway, I started out today about shooting fruits and vegetables. I crept around the assorted clay pots looking for the best angles. The colors were great, as were the shapes, but something was still off.

I felt as though I was being watched.

That’s when the focus of my eyes suddenly shifted, from maybe a foot away to about eight inches.

Coincidentally, that’s where the spider was.

Don’t get me wrong: As spiders go, it was pretty awesome. Bright yellow and jet black, its legs arrayed in pairs around its very elongated body.

I was suddenly back playing hide-and-go-seek with some childhood friends in a vacant lot. I had curled myself up into a ball under some dead weeds.

I was absolutely invisible, until the point that I levitated off the ground up to maybe six feet off the ground, a feat I accomplished while screaming my head off.

Have I mentioned that I was terrified of spiders, and only moments before leaving Earth’s surface, had discovered a common garden spider sitting on my left forearm, regarding me with great interest?

Around her were the shreds of her web. (I know it was a she because all of the web-building spiders are female, and that’s all I’ll say about that.) I was wired up pretty high by then and all she would have had to do to explode my nervous system was to move a leg.

She moved a leg.

The next thing I knew is that I was three houses up the street in my bedroom on the second floor trying really hard to make sure that nothing touched me, not even the air.

Back in my garden, 63 years later and hundreds of miles away, my eyes locked on yet another garden spider.

She seemed calm enough.

I was calm enough, a condition that would soon change if I didn’t inhale.

I unfolded slowly and backed up to find a seat on an upended bucket.

I inhaled.

On the other side of the tomato plants, a water snake squeezed between a couple of garden jars and eased across the fishpond to the other side.

I picked up the camera and eased up on the big arachnid and popped a few shots of the spider.

I straightened up again to let my spine snap back into place, taking a deep breath.

I eyed the water snake, but it was being very attentive to one of the goldfish. I let it alone, figuring I’d get some shots of it once it was done with dinner.

The water snake disappeared into the lily pads.

The goldfish hovered alone in the dark water.

I eased back into the AC in the house and relaxed under the ceiling fan. After a few minutes, I heard some splashing in the fishpond.

T..W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

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