Thomas the Tarantula


I spent the summer volunteering for Missoula’s Summer Arts and Leadership Camp, a free camp for 68 homeless and at risk of being homeless kids in Missoula. SALC is a program under WORD (Womens Opportunity Resource and Development) and is funded by private donations, grant money, and federal funding. Over the course of five weeks, I had the pleasure to go camping, horse back riding, rock climbing, swimming, and hiking with my group of 17 rascals. Out of all these excellent opportunities and activities, though, my favorite activity of all was riding the bus.

As a bus aide, I joined the bus driver Tracey, a wonderful woman originally from Minnesota whose good attitude was contagious. I would meet Tracey at the bus station at 8:00 am and then we would start our round of pick ups together. The first stop we made each morning was to pick up an 11 year old scamp who called himself Thomas the Tarantula.

Thomas was the first boy to get on the bus in the morning and the last to get off at the end of the day. He was also in my group of 17 kids, so naturally I got to know him pretty well over those five weeks. Thomas, or Thomas the Tarantula as he likes to be called, has one of the wildest, most active imaginations of any one I know.

He has a tendency to crawl around on all fours growling “I’m a mutant tarantula!” or getting into extended make believe sessions on the bus that would eventually, I’m not making this up, get to places like this: “…well, I’ll deactivate YOUR force field with my super-nuclear-force-field knife, and then you’ll be sucked into my black hole ring!”

He and I engaged in countless make believe battles that almost always involved mythical creatures, cosmic forces, and technology that you’d only find in a Star Wars movie. Needless to say, I found myself eagerly anticipating Tom’s arrival on the bus each morning where he almost daily took the seat next to mine and shared his bountiful imagination with me. I enjoy his company in part because he reminds me of Bill Watterson’s character Calvin, and partly because he reminds me of myself at that age.

Thomas lives with his grandfather, or “Poppa”, and to my knowledge hasn’t seen his real father in years. His mother works long hours at the hospital and is trying to raise enough money for her and her son to get a place of their own.

Despite these deviations from what you or I might consider a normal childhood, Thomas knows how to be a kid better than most. I think even as adults we could take a lesson from his example and never underestimate the power of our creative minds. Thanks, Thomas, for some bus rides I’ll never forget.

I leave tomorrow for an 11 day float trip on the San Juan river in south east Utah, so I’ll be sure to give you a full report when I return. I eagerly anticipate my return to the sandstone desert (see my blog “Migratory Notions and Desert Solidarity” for more about my last trip), but for now, I’d like to leave you with a question: In the face of our rising debt ceiling and all of the cuts to other social welfare programs, do you believe social programs like the Summer Arts and Leadership Camp that help provide for the less fortunate have an important place in our society, or should our Federal tax dollars be going elsewhere?

Thanks for reading, be good to each other.


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A little about me: I escape the city as often as possible to go on random outdoor excursions. I enjoy standing in the middle of bridges for extended periods of time. I love reading. I love dogs. I also love making music, dancing, potlucks, pretending to be a zombie on Halloween, gardening, running on trails, cooking with garlic, copious amount of hot sauce, falling leaves in autumn, and drinking black coffee. I also love writing, and feel fortunate to offer my weekly perspective as a college student to the Make it Missoula collective.