Of Spinnehunds and Stinkbugs!
AS YOU KNOW, each fall the Parsnips head to the glades of Hill, Virginia for a few days of horrifying spider-peeping. We usually go in October to witness the herds of magnificent, nightmare-inducing Daddy-Long-Legs descending from the mountains for the coming winter. But Courtney is on a stupid field hockey team and has stupid field hockey games almost every weekend next month and so apparently now we’re supposed to rearrange our entire vacation schedule around the “needs” of our children. (This is exactly why I haven’t encouraged Jacob to join anything at school – I’m not making that mistake twice!)
So we missed out on the Daddies (thanks, Courtney), but by going early, we were there for the tail-end of their now summer-long Stinkbug Festival!
It started off just a few years ago as “Stinkbug Days” but as this adorably pungent and hardy invasive species has multiplied exponentially and adapted to Virginia’s climate, it was decided to extend the event all season long.
Look! Look! Way off in the distance, beyond that cluster of trees, you can see the festival’s famous stinkbug-shaped blimp!
The blimp takes folks up over the thick, black clouds of swarming stinkbugs to get a “stinkbug’s-eye view” of all the damage this mischievous little fellow has done to the local soybean crop, decimating the area’s economy. Adorable!
We followed the airship to the fairgrounds where we enjoyed stinkbug tea (actually just iced tea a few stinkbugs fell into), stinkbug chili-cheese fries (regular chili-cheese fries a handful of stinkbugs clumsily dive-bombed onto), stinkbug funnel cakes (apparently they got into the batter), and a local delicacy – fresh, raw stinkbugs (technically, a couple just flew into Jacob’s mouth when he yawned).
What a wonderful time! Even getting stranded at the top of the Ferris wheel for three hours in the scorching sun and steaming humidity – after a mega-cluster of stinkbugs, attracted by the heat of the engine that powers the ride, crawled into the motor and irreparably burned it out – couldn’t dampen our spirits!
Ah, memories to last a lifetime. (Nearly a week later and Courtney’s still pulling the little marmorated guys out of her hair.) But as delightfully malodorous the stinkbugs were, we were in town for the gross and enormous spiders.
Brother, we weren’t disappointed!
First thing you want to do when heading out on a Virginia spider safari is you want to rent a spinnehund from a local doggery. Don’t be fooled! Its small size belies its fierceness and bravery.
These animals have been specially bred to fearlessly run into Virginia’s vicious field spider burrows and roust them out. They’re quick, too – much faster than the spiders they go after – and this breed has, over generations, developed a tolerance for Virginia field spider venom, should an angry arachnid manage to get its disgusting, hairy pedipalps on him. What would instantly kill you or me only temporarily stuns the small but brave spinnehund.
This particular breed has been developed to also wrangle the more aggressive Virginia road spider. His coat helps him to blend into the pavement so the eight-legged bastard cannot see him as easily. Can you find our rent-a-dog in the photo above? Oh, look carefully, he’s there!
With our trusty spinnehund packed neatly away in my napsack (A misnomer, really – there’s no napping with gigantic and deadly Virginia spiders around every corner. In fact, once you come face-to-pedipalps with one of these ferocious and bloodthirsty creatures, you’ll likely never sleep again) we were ready to see some spiders! Big, nasty, disgusting spiders! And hoo boy, we did!
Tomorrow: Spider gallery! Oh yes – there will be pedipalps!