Book excerpt: “Spiders”

My apologies for the lack of posts these past two weeks. I’ve been head down, day and night, writing the book. It’s been a blast but exhausting. Here’s hoping the final product comes out OK.

A huge thank-you to all who left a comment with a suggested book title. I loved them all  and appreciate you taking the time out to do it.

Guess what? I still don’t have a title.

The manuscript has been completed and sent to the editor as of yesterday and I’m still no closer to making a decision.

Uh oh.

The struggle has been that while the book dives into gardening quite a bit, it really isn’t about that. It’s more about how I found my passion along the way. It involved finding gardening but also finding writing. I’ve done my best to make the book inspirational and hopefully to get the reader to take a closer look at their own life.

I promise this isn’t self-help nonsense. It’s still me and light and goofy, just with a twist of trying to help.

Below is another excerpt for your reading pleasure. It should give you a better idea of the feel of the book.

If you get inspired and come up with a potential book title, I’m still all ears.

And I will need all of your feedback when it comes to picking out a book cover, etc.

Thank you in advance.



Spiders so large they appear to be wearing the pelts of small mammals.
― Dave Barry

I wasn’t the kid who was intrigued by or ever sought out any type of critter. I didn’t play in the dirt and I didn’t pick up worms. I had friends who would turn over rocks in the woods just to see what creatures could be found underneath. When they did that, I squirmed, looked away and thought about baseball.

In fact, there is quite a legendary story in Markowski family lore about my deep fear of butterflies as a young lad. My mother reminds me of it regularly, now that she sees that I enjoy nothing more than chasing the Monarch butterflies around in my own garden. As a kid I refused to step outside if there were any signs of a butterfly nearby. If I was forced to confront my fears by my unsympathetic parents, I would physically shake and fall down in a heap.

Side note: Lepidopterophobia is the fear of butterflies. If it has an official name I couldn’t have been that crazy. Nicole Kidman allegedly suffers from this fear. It’s not so weird any more is it?.

I remember one giant spider that resided on a jalousie on our enclosed porch. It was there for weeks and we all completely avoided the porch, other than making sure it hadn’t left its perch. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had nightmares. I vowed to avoid the outdoors for eternity.

I don’t know how the spider issue ultimately resolved itself, but I do know that I’m not alone in recalling just how traumatized we all were by that mammoth arachnid.

Our region had awful caterpillar problems when I was young. The black and furry critters would completely cover our trees in spring/summer and it was a regular occurrence to see them smashed all over the roadways. They were creepy and everywhere and infiltrated our lives from every angle.

One day we kids were all forced to stay home from school making sure all windows and doors were shut so a helicopter could fly overhead and spray some toxic chemicals on all of the town’s trees. One neighbor protested by sitting on her roof. I thought she was nuts then but I really like her now.

I broke my right wrist in 1st grade sliding down the giant playground slide. My body went down the slide as the kids pushed me, but my arm stayed behind, hooked around the top of the slide. I remember Patty Huff greeting a crying me at the bottom of the slide and escorting me to the nurse’s office that afternoon.

This was the same Patty Huff who was mercilessly mocked throughout middle school and all the way up through high school. I befriended her on Facebook years ago and was happy to see she was doing OK. Sadly she passed away soon after that from a medical issue I never fully understood. I wish I had thanked her for her kindness back in 1979 and that I had stood up for her more in school.

Those words ring hollow now because I did nothing. I don’t get to pat myself on the back now.

When I broke my wrist, I had this overwhelmingly strange skin reaction underneath my cast and I was convinced it was the result of a stray caterpillar that found its way up my arm. I would laugh until I cried and fall down and beg my mom to make it stop. She would sympathize through tears of laughter. The day I got that cast cut off was the most freeing day of my life.

When I found gardening or when it found me, I quickly realized I had to confront my fear of the critters that inhabited the soil. Worms were fine and I learned early on to appreciate their worth. I would pick them up, pat their squishy backs and place them back down so they could do their good work and improve my soil.

The spiders were another story. I squealed a lot at first. I would throw my trowel at them and run away. There were a lot of false alarms as my paranoia grew.

Then one day I spotted a mother spider scurrying with baby eggs still attached after I nearly decapitated her with my shovel. This changed everything. I had immediate sympathy and felt her fear. I was a lot bigger than her. So what if she has 8 fuzzy legs and always looks pissed off. She’s just trying to survive.

So we reached an unwritten agreement. I left them alone if they promised to quietly announce themselves; no jump scares, no surprises.

This arrangement worked and it worked beautifully. We were able to coexist. I came to sympathize with their purpose in life. They ate all of the bad bugs even if I didn’t know who those “bad bugs” were. I came to appreciate that they had work to do just like I had work to do.

I lost all fear of spiders.

This new found comfort with the spider allowed me to play hero to my wife soon after.

It was the day after Christmas in 2002. My newborn son was 5 months old and my wife was still on maternity leave. It was our first Christmas as a “family”.

I was at work and my wife was home with our son, watching him roll around and coo under the Christmas tree. This Christmas tree was a beauty. It was the perfect shade of blue/green and flawlessly shaped with the only drawback being that the needles were so sharp; we had to place the ornaments on the tree while wearing gloves.

The sacrifices we make.

We had cut the tree down weeks earlier on an official family outing. We have fantastic photos of triumphant me holding the tree in one hand and a saw in the other. A great shot of my father-in-law holding baby Jack in the snow. A borderline obnoxiously perfect holiday moment. But damn how happy I am now that we took those photos.

Here’s a tip for you all if you want to cut down your own Christmas tree. Sharp needles are a great means for protecting whatever wants to reside within the bowels of the tree. And more often than I realized then, spiders like to live in said trees; like a lot of spiders.

The call to my office was straight out of a horror movie. My wife was whispering like she was holed up in a closet, trying to escape her captors. She and my son had taken shelter in our bedroom. It was the only safe place in the house. As she recounted, it started with a peripheral glance at something jumping from ornament to ornament and ended with the realization that there was a full blown spider invasion. I can only assume all of the spider eggs hatched at the same time and they then agreed to set out and wreak havoc.

I jumped off of my conference call and raced home. Fortunately for my family, I was less than 10 minutes away.

I raced up the stairs, ignored the grisly scene in the family room, and consoled my wife. With the utmost confidence, I told her “I got this” and proceeded to head back down the stairs and directly into the line of fire. I did so with a smirk on my face because this guy no longer had a fear of spiders.

I got rid of every last one of them.

I took off every individual ornament, inspecting each for not only spiders but spider eggs and carefully packed them away. I carried the didn’t-know-what-hit-it tree out to the street, daggers from the branches and all.

I continued to monitor the house for weeks to ensure no stragglers were left behind.

My wife swooned when it was all done.

I was totally her Prince Charming.

We could go back to hanging-with-the-infant bliss.

Since that day, I have become the spider whisperer. Out here in the country, we get terrifyingly large spiders in our garage, in our basement and they are good at stealthily sneaking through our front door.

All the family needs to say is “Dad” and I’m there with a paper towel. I don’t kill them. I lure them into my paper toweled hand, gently ball it up and place them in their natural environment. They don’t scare me no matter how hairy or sinister they look.

I’m currently considering going into the spider removal business. Who needs help?


Chew on this: Do you explore what scares you? Lean into those fears and see where it takes you.

5 thoughts on “Book excerpt: “Spiders”

  1. Johanna

    I can’t wait to read this book! As far as a title, what about something simple like “Growing”? It encompasses you growing up through your life, growing as a gardener, and growing as a writer. Too simple?

  2. Peggy V

    I am a relatively new subscriber to your blog and so many things that you write about are so relatable. I have gone back and read a lot of your previous posts, plan on purchasing your book, and hope that you keep on writing. You make me laugh and I thank you for that.
    So glad you are writing a new book. I don’t know if I can be of any help on a title, but here are a few ideas for what it’s worth:
    Perennially Obsessed: Tales from the Obsessive Neurotic Gardener
    With Trowel and Pen: Lessons from my life in the garden
    Dirty Fingers and Green Thumbs: How I planted stuff and wrote about it, too.
    Digging Up the Dirt: My life and my garden
    It’s the Panicum’s Fault: Living the Gardener’s Life

  3. Marianna Quartararo

    You do have a story to tell! Glad you considered writing about your journey. It is unique and only you can write it. It will also appeal to a wider audience than only those interested in gardening. Field of Green? Diamonds to Dire? Some twist on your earlier love of baseball and growing into a gardener.
    Good luck! Waiting to see it in print!


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