WALK INTO ANY STORE... come September and October, at least one with an aisle devoted to Halloween goods, and you're bound to see paper cut-outs of spiders gracing various walls. Or, if you're on the tall side, you'll often feel the crepe paper legs of a ceiling-dangling arachnid brush the top of your head, an instant goosebump-inducer. Spiders are one of the most popular decorative themes of fall, and their hairy smiling creepy-crawly mugs are seen on countless seasonal products. But this isn't just fantasy on the parts of designers: Autumn really is the time for many a spider, at least in the courtship-making department. Take the California Tarantula. Nicknamed "the gentle giant" 'round Mount Diablo, the tarantula, or, rather, the male tarantula, trundles on out of its cozy burrow come fall to find a mate. The love rituals of the animal world fascinate we humans, so much so that nearly every major zoo features a romance-mating themed event come Valentine's Day. But hiking into the wild to learn more about it, specifically with one type of beastie? It's a rarer treat, but the Mount Diablo Interpretative Association will lead a number of "moderate three mile, two-hour hikes" in search of the tarantula as he goes in search of a date.
IT ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE ROMANCE: You'll also discover what the hairy fellows eat, where they live, and "why they're only visible in the fall." They're "essentially harmless to humans," says the association, but, of course, the size of the tarantula, and those spindly spiky hairs, have lent them quite the fearsome rep. So much so that they've kind of become Spider (TM) when it comes to how we humans interpret arachnids in our stories and Halloween decor. But do they deserve another look, the gentle giants? The Walnut Creek-close hikes will both redeem the tarantula's spooky character and show you a softer, mating-sweet side to the eight-legged scurriers. There are seven tarantula-tastic hikes to choose from in September and October. Scurry scurry.