Shaking the August Stick

Shaking the August Stick


Cognitive Dissonance



Sometime towards the end of the third or fourth week of August, usually after one or two cooler nights brings them out in droves, Mrs. Cog and I go in search of a few sturdy August Sticks. While in a pinch anything can be used, a broom handle minus the broom, an actual stick fallen from a tree or a length of small diameter metal or plastic pipe, experience has taught us the best August Stick is a thin four to five-foot-long piece of bamboo repurposed after a summer propping up some top-heavy pepper plants.

It’s happened to each and every one of us at some point in our lives. We’re walking down a sidewalk or path in the woods, under some trees or overhanging deck, or turning the corner of our house when we plow face first into a large sticky spider web. Because we don’t actually see it until we’re fully entangled, we don’t know if a spider is now stuck to our face and body and is getting ready to counter attack.


For me, and I suspect for many of those reading, other than possibly coming face to face with a snake while crawling around in a cramped crawl space (been there, done that) there isn’t anything quite as primal as my fear and loathing of the common (and not so common) spider, particularly when I have just crashed into its web. Talk about irrational fear.

Just – Get – It – Off – Of – Me - NOW

While not quite as energetic as someone doing the bee dance, that almost involuntary swiping and slapping at near empty space around our heads and upper body (don’t forget the running and hopping as well) when a bee has it in his or her bonnet to meet and great us, the nearly panicked effort I engage in to remove the sticky web from wherever it has lodged is primitive and primeval.

Interestingly, I do not have the same reaction when it comes to bees. When I discover one or more checking me out, a sort of serene calm comes over me and my mind goes slack, though not blank. I have learned my fear, and I assume the accompanying pheromone secretions triggered by my fear, tends to excite the bees. Instead I try to be one with the bees, no pun intended.

OK, maybe a little pun intended.

Mrs. Cog calls me the bee whisperer after an incident at a neighbor’s house where I walked out the door and into a very angry swarm of wasps. I was able to eventually extricate myself from this precarious situation without a single sting using my ‘be the bee’ nonthreatening emotional and physical behavior. I just seek that inner hive mind we all are a part of deep down inside. I was not always this way.

But for the life of me I cannot summon up the same reaction, or at least not entirely, when it comes to spiders and their webs, especially when I’m already in the web and presumably designated the next meal. Since I handle the majority of the outside repairs and maintenance tasks here on the homestead, I interact far more often with spiders and webs than Mrs. Cog does. So I am somewhat more at ease when interacting up close and personal; emphasis on the word ‘somewhat’.

As a result of the late summer spider invasion (their Spidey sense tells them winter is coming) we keep several August Sticks within easy reach just outside our front and rear doors, ready to be quickly mustered into battle when the creepy crawlies and their webs appear. Imagine, if you will, the sight of an much older and more rotund Harry Potter frantically waving his outrageously oversized magic wand, desperately trying to conjure up protection spells to keep the spider webs at bay. It’s hilarious if one is to be perfectly honest. The resident wildlife must think me a clown.

In fact, one morning while exiting the walkout basement door and promptly setting upon a nearby web, I happened to glance to my right and saw a deer not fifty feet away watching this stupid human frantically waving a stick at a spider web. Its calm demeanor as it loudly crunched on the deer corn buffet I’d laid out the previous evening reminded me so much of mesmerized humans munching on popcorn while watching the latest blockbuster movie.


"I never get tired of watching stupid human tricks."


One can only guess what the possums and skunks think about the silly human interlopers. The resident non-human monthly community meetings must be an absolute laugh fest for the local animals attending. I can just hear Scott the Skunk now.

“Did you see the big one using that noisy machine to cut the weeds. Why doesn’t he just eat them? Or waving that silly stick at the spiders. What’s that all about? Looney tunes if you ask me. And have you ever gotten a whiff of them? Boy do they stink. The only good thing about them is that yummy stuff in white bags they drag up to the road once a week. That’s some good eatin’.”

During moments of quiet reflection, I wonder at the industry and efficiency of the spider. Their web is a marvel of engineering design and construction, while the silk they spin is an incredibly strong and flexible material human engineers only dream of creating. Imagine something ten times stronger than steel with the flexibility of a rubber band and the stickiness of super glue. And recyclable to boot.

Of course, all these amazing characteristics are precisely why I spit and sputter and claw and yank, as I try to extract myself from the web that is now firmly attached to my face like that baby monster in the 1979 movie Alien. Even if I’m successful in pulling off the majority of the web in the first few attempts, all while wondering where that damn spider is, there are always a few stray strands of web hanging off me just waiting to tickle my ear or brush my face and neck.


To be fair, I suspect the spider isn’t very happy I came crashing into his or her world. While the exact same spider can, and often will, build an entirely new web by the end of the day, I’m fairly certain they would prefer the stupid humans to just leave them alone. In an eat or be eaten world, they would rather concentrate on the former while avoiding the latter. I can’t blame them, though the human privilege of being at (or near) the top of the food chain means I mostly worry about other humans eating me, along with the occasional drive-by black bear.


What's really interesting is the hidden bear about five feet in the woods and to the left, which we only noticed while reviewing all the images later that day.


The actual name bestowed upon whatever is within reach to shake at the spiders and their webs, meaning the August Stick, comes compliments of Mrs. Cog. One of her genius talents is the ability to create, on the fly and off the cuff, easily understood and often hilarious names for anything and everything she feels needs to be properly named or re-named.

Sometimes the instantly conjured word or phrase is a modification and/or shortening of several verbs, adjectives and proper nouns, all jumbled together in such a way as to be instantly understood and always unforgettable. It is a singular and rare talent second to none, and one I am insanely jealous of. I’m supposed to be the wordsmith around here, yet I can’t even keep up with the remarkable Mrs. Cog. Life just ain’t fair. ?

I asked her a while back why the sticks weren’t called September Sticks, since the majority of the time we actually used them was during that month. She glared at me over her reading glasses and gave me that look, the one usually reserved for a clueless person who has a few lights on, but for whatever reason ain’t home. “Because they’re August Sticks, dear”.

Duh! It’s not nice to mess with Mother Cog.

Lest the reader think I devote my entire day to slash and burn spider web destruction, I only clear out those webs which have appeared overnight on well worn paths I use to move about the homestead. However, when cutting the weed fields on my noisy machine, while I try to remain heads up and on the lookout for webs in my path, some of my best spider web heart attack moments have occurred on the tractor.

Just imagine riding along at five miles per hour with three large sharp spinning steel blades inches beneath your feet ready to chop off any wayward toes, when suddenly you run head first into a large hanging spider web with a big old hairy spider dead center. Normally it’s a somewhat involved process to dismount the machine, especially if you leave it running. The blades don’t stop instantly, so remember those toes.

But now I must stop both the tractor and the spinning blades while also attempting to pull a large sticky spider web out of my hair and off my face, all while avoiding the spider and its venom. Then climb back on and do it all over again. Like I said, the animals must think me a buffoon. But I’m enjoying the day to day variety of what life has to offer up here on the mountain.

Regardless of whether or not you live in spider country, find yourself an August Stick of proper length and thickness and shake, rattle and roll yourself drunk Harry Potter style. It never hurts to perfect your skills just in case the invading aliens turn out to be eight foot tall spiders. You never know.

Oh, and send me some video of your performance or it never happened.



Cognitive Dissonance

The original August Sticks ready and waiting. Now if  I can just find my magic spell book.

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