Spider Time

Beauty queens of autumn – the spiders known as orb weavers – cope with the weather. Moisture from rain and fog sharpens their intricate woven mandalas – food trap webs attached by guy wires – into bright focus.

Spiders are everywhere here, and varied – from the multitude of small ground spiders in lawn and flower beds to the squirming yellow ball attached to house or fence that, when touched, becomes a cluster of scattering, teeny spiders. Yellow crab spiders that always find the yellow flowers amaze me.

Big spiders sometimes need transporting out of doors, and we relocate them with plastic container and a piece of paper. In the process the spider might drop a line and get carried out on a filament. Wispy spiders with hardly any body look like dust, which they like. A particular kind of medium dark spider camps out under blankets or cushions, surrounded by captured prey. Getting dressed here means shaking out jeans (my niece, raised in Washington, taught me this).

Robert Pyle, in his book “Wintergreen,” writes of his wrestle with a fear of spiders in general and orb weavers in particular: “I came to find that one cannot enjoy the late summer in western Washington without a tolerance for these and the many native spiders, for they lie in wait everywhere for flies, grasshoppers, and arachnophobes.” (A spider expert once found 50 different species of spiders in and around Pyle’s Washington home.)

Orb weavers with bulbous abdomens and distinctive cruciform marks on their back have a definite presence. Sometimes overnight they build a web across a window from frame to frame. They are quick to scamper when webs vibrate.

One particularly clever weaver has built her enormous web between the closed-up sun umbrella and the chimney stack of the old Franklin stove in our garden – she retreats in inclement weather to one of the umbrella’s folds, which shelters her perfectly. She emerges to mummy wrap countless creatures, seemingly sucking on the victim, like a lollypop still in cellophane.

Last year I watched a weaver for days from the window seat in the house. The wind repeatedly blew fir needles into her web, and she wrestled each one out (she’d put the end of each needle in her mouth before kicking it off her web plate). Like housecleaning I thought at first, but the longer I watched the more I wondered if she was enjoying some tiny bit of sap sweetness.

I don’t like to be surprised by spiders – I recognize that part of my brain that just reacts – and spiders like our encounters even less. Spiders want no truck with me. I appreciate their industry and independence, the way they quietly perform their beneficial tasks in the world, and their proclivity for peaceful co-existence.

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