O Scorpion of Mine

Posted by on Oct 3, 2012 in Blog | 1 comment

O Scorpion of Mine

I don’t know why I am afraid of scorpions, as opposed to other crawling, biting, shellacked and fangy creatures that inhabit the countryside where I live. I’ve listened with neutral interest as bears rattled garbage cans a few yards outside my door, and ho-hummed my way through warnings of mountain lions prowling the paths where I take my walks. I’ve had bees, yellow jackets, and others of their ilk sink their stingers into my flesh, but I don’t flinch unduly when a buzzing creature flies into my path. The one time I came across a rattlesnake, it was aroused, about to strike, yet that evoked nothing but an automatic awe. How is it, then, that these creatures, which I rarely see and which have never caused me harm, provoke such a powerful and negative response?

The only time a scorpion scuttled out its normal path and into mine was long ago, when I lived by the Russian River, and came across an impressive member of the species poised on the metal edge of my kitchen sink. It must have been as surprised as I was to find itself there, out of its normal territory on or underneath the floor, for it froze. In that long moment I had plenty of time to examine it in fascinated horror. It was light brown, about the size of a child’s fist, and brandished two outsize pincers with scooped, half-moon edges that reminded me of excavation equipment. Its torso seemed slim compared with its impressive pincers and tail, and was notched with a spiny armor that created perpendicular angles. A thought arose: “This looks like something that the Pentagon could have designed.” Then I smashed it.

Many years have passed since then, with nary a scorpion scuttling past my path. Not, that is, until I moved into a house in the redwoods where one of them occasionally presents itself on the floor, a few inches away from the front or back entrances. This time, I know my phobia is not my fellow creature’s problem, so I am able to remove it from the house with the handy-dandy equipment I keep on hand for such occasions, a large glass jar and a piece of cardboard to slide under it.

Duty done, you would think, and yet somehow my mind can’t rest there. I know that the scorpions in my area are not highly poisonous. I have heard that a bite from one hurts quite a lot, but that the effect soon wears off. (I knew a man who surprised two mating scorpions, when he crawled under a house he was working on; the pair promptly bit him. He drove to an emergency room, where the staff assured him he didn’t need treatment and sent him home.) My mind has made an impress, a scorpion-shaped groove, in its perceptual space and I go about looking for the awful insects everywhere. I do this, supposedly, so that I can avoid stepping on them with the mutual harm that would result, but in actuality I am not avoiding scorpions but seeking them. I am tied to the very thing I wish to avoid; I cannot stop thinking about what I abhor.

I have tried telling myself that I have lived in this house for eighteen months now, and have only seen a scorpion about four times; that is less than one sighting every four months. Why should I be afraid? Why does my mind seek them out, doing a double take whenever, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a redwood needle that has drifted in from out of doors? Why assiduously shake out my shoes, or place them on a higher shelf, and why the little frisson of fear every time I do so? Is it just fear, or is there some secret thrill of anticipation, the inevitable gore of meeting what I have placed outside my personal pale? All I know is that I can spend a lot of time thinking about what I deem unpleasant. I have thus formed some secret bond with the repulsive, merely by deciding that it is so. There is a scorpion-shaped groove in my mind every morning as I glide across the kitchen, moving toward food.

One Comment

  1. Enjoyed your scorpion remarks. Your site sounds like a place to revisit. Bonnie