Bug Off
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Most of the insect-human interactions I have observed were conflicts, at least from the human point of view. You inadvertently step into a yellow jacket nest and get stung half to death; or a couple of ticks try to hitch a ride and get a drink at the same time; or horseflies or mosquitoes decide to use you as a moving breakfast buffet. Sometimes it seems like everything that lives out in the woods wants to bite, scratch, or suck your blood, but we all learn to live with it, more or less.

One of the more interesting bug encounters I've ever seen happened to my friend Fred. Fred and I both worked for the Forest Service on a wild fire crew, and we were walking patrol on a fire line late one night. We had adjacent sections of the trail, so when we met, we would sit down beside the trail and have a break. During one of these breaks, Fred dozed off. I let him sleep for a few minutes because I knew we had to be up for the rest of the night, and he would need all the rest he could get.

When I woke him, he sat up and started shaking his head. Then he started pounding on one side of his head, shaking, quivering, and hopping up and down. He looked like a man who had been struck by the jumpin' bejabbers crossed with the breathless heebie-jeebies. He couldn't seem to stand still. I was beginning to get a little worried. Fred wasn't the sharpest blade in the drawer, but he almost never acted like he'd eaten a case of Mexican jumping beans.

"Fred, what the heck is the matter with you?"

"I think I have something in my ear, something alive," he said.

"Well heck, that's no problem," I told him. "I'll just blow real hard in the other ear, and it'll shoot right out of there. Har har har." That remark didn't get near as big a laugh as it should have.

Finally, he said, "I'm not kidding. There's something in my ear. If we don't get it out, I'll go crazy."

Now the tool Fred was carrying that night was a Pulaski, which is really just a fancy axe. The thought of Fred walking around at night, crazy, while carrying an axe did not sit comfortably with me, so I determined to do the best I could to help him with his problem.

We were in kind of an odd spot; we didn't have any tweezers or any other small tool to insert into his ear. If I poked a stick in it might make whatever was in there mad enough to bite. I had no idea what it might feel like to be bit on the inside of the ear, but then I didn't want to know and either did Fred. Finally, for lack of a better idea, I had Fred lay on his side while I shined my belt light into his ear.

It was awfully dark in there, even with the light. I couldn't see anything at first. Then I thought I saw something moving. Slowly, as if I had just awakened her from a nap, a large black spider crawled up and out of Fred's ear canal.

To really understand what this was like, you have to picture the circumstances. Two guys alone on a mountainside, itís pitch black, miles from anywhere, the wild fire burning in the background, smoke all around. One guy watches while a huge, black spider crawls out of the other guy's ear. I'm telling you right now, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It was like being in the Twilight Zone. There were a couple of seconds when I just couldn't move. Fred started to shake, probably from hearing the high keening sound that seemed to be coming from somewhere in the back of my throat.

Finally, I managed to brush the spider off Fred's ear, and he scrambled to his feet. We both stood looking at the spider dancing in our belt lights. Fred shook his head.

"There is no way that was in my ear," he said.

"Oh, yes it was," I told him.

"Hell, it's too big to fit," he said.

"Well that's what came out." I was a little bit irritated at his disbelief.

"In fact, if I were you, I'd get myself checked out as soon as I could because there's only one reason a spider would crawl in your ear like that...to make a nest. And you know what that means. She may have laid eggs, so if I were you, I'd..."

At this point, I was talking to myself. Fred was already gone, his belt light bobbing and weaving as he ran down the trail. I figured at the rate he was traveling, he'd cover the five miles back to camp in about twenty minutes, pretty good time on a trail in the dark.

Fred had only been asleep for about five minutes, so I figure that the spider was just looking for a warm, moist spot to take a nap, and Fred's ear just happened to be along the way. I told Fred later that morning that I was pretty sure that his spider didn't lay eggs. He told me the EMT had checked him out, and there wasn't anything in the ear. They had even irrigated it just to be sure. I did notice, though, when I went to wake him up for the next night's work, that he was sleeping with his hands clamped firmly over his ears.

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