When I was a child we loved catching insects of all sorts. An empty glass jar and a hammer and nail to punch some air holes in the lid were all we needed and the hunt would be on. No grasshopper or cricket was safe from pursuit. Bumble bees were the trickiest because they tended to fight back. I’ll never forget the day I turned over a log at school and discovered the biggest spider I’d ever seen in my life. It was gray and looked positively muscular with thick hairy legs like a tarantula. When I brought it home in my jar Dad said it was a wood spider. I named him Hercules.
We were living in a little mining subdivision nestled in the woods south of the highway between Blind River and Spragg with Georgian Bay on one side and the railway tracks next to the highway on the other. There were about two dozen houses and not much else so we children made our own fun. We had the run of the woods and did a lot of exploring and building forts. Whenever two children got into a tiff everyone would choose sides and the mock war would be on. It was a favorite game that somehow never got out of hand. We would send out spies, take prisoners, and do our best to destroy one another’s forts until one side or the other gave up.
The battle I remember best was the one Hercules played a part in. We were having a strategy meeting in a tent in our back yard when it suddenly occurred to me that we had a ready made secret weapon in Hercules. I dashed into the house and brought out the big pickle jar that housed my captured spider. My fellow warriors were duly impressed and we resolved to make him part of our arsenal. Excitement ran high as we marched out to the road to confront our opponents. They were there all right, waiting for us to emerge. Someone yelled “Charge”, and we all ran straight at them shouting “Hercules…Hercules!” My job was to run out in front with the pickle jar held in my outstretched hands as both shield and sword. It worked! They fled like rabbits with a pack of dogs after them. The war was over and we were victorious.
Looking back, I doubt they even knew what was in the jar. Our excess of confidence was probably what unnerved them. Nevertheless, Hercules was the hero of the hour. We retired to our tent and prepared to reward him. I don’t know who came up with the idea but it was decided that each one of us would pay our respects by reaching a hand into the jar to touch him. He was part of the team after all. It was all very exciting not to mention seriously creepy.
I kept Hercules for a few more days before deciding that he deserved better than life in a pickle jar. I took him out to the woods and found a spot where a tree had fallen and was starting to rot. It looked like a place that would appeal to a wood spider so I opened the jar and tipped him out. In seconds he was gone but I’ve never forgotten him. He was certainly the most impressive creature I ever caught in one of my jars.