Spiders and Spiders and Spiders, Oh My!

There probably weren’t actually that many spiders this week. I just had my first encounters with Nebraska spiders. It all started last week, when I had some time between training sessions and helped the museum technician clean the one-room schoolhouse. I was wiping down a chair when I saw something black and round and not that tiny crawl across the back. I jumped back, managed to keep from screaming, and after collecting myself went to investigate. The spider was probably about the size of a quarter or a nickel, legs and all, but the legs were so dense and folded up against its body that I couldn’t tell you how much of the quarter was body and how much was legs, but I also wasn’t trying to look too closely. It maintained this very round, dense shape as it scuttled out of view on the chair. Amy came to my rescue and captured the spider to carry it outside. Later that day when we were outside on the prairie deck in the middle of the park talking about local flora and fauna, another one of the nasty spiders crawled across the deck, and no one else seemed to notice. Fast forward to the weekend, as I am getting ready for bed and alone in my house, and climbing its way across the thick carpet is another spider. Luckily this one was smaller, and a different type of spider, but it was a fast runner, looked like it could jump, then when I tried to squish it with the only thing I could find (my trash can), it hid under a long piece of carpet. It took a few tries, but there was no way I was going to sleep with the spider creeping around my room. That was my first experience dealing with a Nebraskan spider on my own. Skip ahead another couple days, and I get out of training earlier than I’m scheduled, so my supervisor asks me to unlock the schoolhouse for a family who wants to take their two children inside. I’m pretty excited for this responsibility, as it’s the first time I’m doing something on my own in the park. I drive over, greet the family, unlock the door, and as I walk inside I see one of the repulsive black spiders scuttling across the wall on the far side of the entryway. I decided to just ignore it since there was no reason anyone would head that direction since all the old desks, books, chalkboards, and cast iron stoves were in the next room. I also didn’t think the kids or their parents needed to see me freak out over something so small, when inevitably the spider did something I was not expecting. I managed to answer the kids’ questions and lock up the schoolhouse without incident or another sighting of the resident spider.

The outside of the schoolhouse. The resident spider seems to live inside between the front window and the first window on the side.

The interior of the schoolhouse.

  The rest of my week was less focused on spiders. I had another training to go to three days this week for interpretive staff, with rangers from two other nearby parks joining in. It focused on how to ask questions and create dialog with visitors, getting them to connect to the park and the story we’re trying to tell here. We practiced coming up with open-ended questions that draw on visitors’ personal experience, and creating conversation arcs that lead into bigger questions. During one of our last sessions, my group was talking about culture, how homesteaders left their homes to move to places like Nebraska where they had to form new communities. We asked how people find their sense of place in their culture, and one of the other rangers from a different park started to cry when she gave us feedback. She almost seemed a little angry, because this was something she had been struggling with in her park. Initially my group was shocked and felt really terrible for bringing up our question, and we were all pretty quiet for the rest of the afternoon. This morning we had some time to talk it over and work through what had happened, discussing what we thought about how we had handled the situation, and how we would handle it if something like that happened during a program. We also realized that we had succeeded in connecting with someone, even if it wasn’t in the way we originally anticipated.

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