By Diana Marcum, FRESNO BEE COARSEGOLD – This foothill hamlet is bursting with signs of autumn: golden hills, auburn leaves rustling in the breeze, acorns falling on roofs so fast and furiously they sound like gunfire. And tarantulas. “They’re all over the roads. You’re either swerving to miss them or swerving to hit them, depending on how you’re feeling,” says Rose Sartoris, owner of Rose’s Frosty on Highway 41. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.She’s joking about the last part. Locals in this town of 17,000 in Madera County don’t approve of running down the not-so-itsy-bitsy spiders. As most everyone around here can tell you, mid-October to mid-November is tarantula mating season. In Coarsegold, it’s considered very bad form to off one of the thousands of hairy, multilegged arachnids out in pursuit of passion. The tarantulas on the roads are males on their way to the burrows of females. Tarantula trysts involve locking hooks and fangs, and the females sometimes kill and eat the males, but people in Coarsegold find it a romantic season. Indeed, the beginnings of the Coarsegold Tarantula Festival – the 10th annual event is today – trace back to a newcomer who moved here from Oakland and didn’t properly appreciate tarantulas. “In 1979, I was pulling out of the driveway with my three little girls and I saw this thing,” recalls Tarantula Festival founder Diane Boland. “I backed right over it, and the neighbor came over screaming, `I can’t believe you people who move up here from the city and start destroying things.’ I felt terrible.” Years later, Boland started the Tarantula Festival as a way to pull visitors into her shopping village of artisans and to educate creeped-out newcomers. The festival begins with a best pumpkin dessert contest. In a nod to the festival icon, a favorite event is the hairy leg contest, one for men and one for women. “Don’t even ask. It’s a mountain-woman thing,” Boland says. The man and woman deemed to have the hairiest legs by virtue of thickness of growth and texture of individual hair each receive a shaving kit and a $25 gift certificate to The Mining Company Restaurant. People figure Chuck over at the vacuum shop is a shoo-in for the men’s division. “He’s a very hairy man, and he’s won before,” says Sue Byers. The festival’s highlight and culminating event is the tarantula race. Contestants must provide their own creepy crawler. So far this year, Boland has caught only one tarantula, and it’s different from tarantulas she’s had before. “They really do have personalities. The others have all been nice and cozy – not this one,” she says. She muses aloud that maybe she caught him before he made it to his conquest, leaving him edgy. For the races, each tarantula crawls through dryer tubes. Boland says the tarantulas need to be separated or they fight. She is willing to demonstrate how the racing works, except the Tarantula Festival founder is squeamish about actually touching her tarantula. “They feel like velvet, and I’ll scoop one up without thinking about it if I think it’s in danger, but normally I don’t do spiders,” she says. No one else working on readying the festival stage will volunteer, so Boland delicately positions the tarantula in the tube and blows on it to get it moving. After the festival, contestants set their tarantulas loose in woodsy places far from traffic.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!