It is fall. I know this because we are now on the other side of the Fall Equinox. But really I know this because tonight when I walked outside to see the night sky, clear and dark, and laced with shimmering stars – I heard the most delicious night sky sound – geese flying high above. But here’s the most important reason that I know it is fall: spiders. They are busy, very busy, building webs EVERYWHERE.
I have a new neighbor. She is my closest neighbor and she moved in exactly two weeks ago. I call her Spidee and she lives outside, up in the corner of my front door. I actually call all spiders, Spidee, but right now, she’s the one I’m having an ongoing conversation with. (I have used the name Spidee most of my life and was surprised when lots of others starting talking about Spidee – but they were talking about Spiderman, and I was not.)
This time of year, it seems like almost overnight large spider webs appear all over the place, and to me they are absolutely beautiful. And miraculous. Some years back I had the opportunity to witness the construction of a large web from its humble beginning with the first few support lines. The web itself was about three feet in diameter, and, if you included all the supports, it was enormous. It took most of the day for the spider to weave that web and I would check on its progress now and then. I learned a great deal about how these amazing structures are created as I continued to check throughout the day. It was in a great location for catching insects, but also in a somewhat vulnerable spot, and by the next morning it was completely gone.
On the morning that Spidee and I first met, I opened the curtain at my front door, and saw a large spider web at the upper right corner of the doorway. There in the center of the web was a large “garden” spider…the kind that is brown and beige swirled together like coffee with cream not quite stirred in all the way. Because I had learned so much about web-design (the old-fashioned kind) from watching that spider a few years back, I knew there were some support lines well below the main web, attaching it to the frame of the door that I could not see as yet. I spoke to her and said, “I am so happy to see you, Spidee, but I need you to shift things around. The way you’ve built your web here, there’s a good chance that I’m going to knock it down, at least in part. I need to walk through this part of the door every time I go in or out. I will try to remember to bend my knees a bit so I don’t hit your web… I’ll do my best…but it might be better if you shifted it around .” Well, there you have it. That’s how I speak to spiders. I really do love them and greatly appreciate the work that they do, although I have to admit that I don’t appreciate finding them IN my bed – and I have told them that quite clearly.
I was sweeping my porch later in the day and reminded myself twice to make sure and take care with the broom handle when I went back inside, but I forgot and on my way back inside I snagged the web. “Sorry Spidee,” I moaned. “That’s why I need you to shift your web. You don’t have to leave completely…just move it over.”
The next morning I was standing close to my front door, which happens to be a sliding glass door, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement on the front porch. I froze, hoping that I would see a critter out there, as sometimes I do, and there was a bird hopping about. I wish I could tell you exactly what kind of bird. I tried to figure it out with my bird book…but I couldn’t. It was a smallish grey-brown bird with a charcoal-grey head…not like the cap on a chickadee and not black like a junco. As this bird continued to hop, I could see that it had something in its beak; some large-ish insect-like critter. Then my heart sank as I thought, “Oh no, it’s Spidee.” Whatever was bouncing around while the bird hopped, was quite large relative to the size of the bird’s beak and it definitely had more than four legs. It seemed to be a very fresh kill, as the legs of what I was fairly certain was a spider, were flopping around – not stiff yet. “Oh Spidee,” I said again…although it did seem darker and much larger than Spidee.
I remained motionless, because even though I knew I very well could be witnessing Spidee’s demise…I had never seen a bird eat a spider with such great animation, such gusto. It took a long time. The bird would attempt to shift the spider in its beak so as to get a better purchase on the part it was trying to eat next, but it was slow going. The spider kept flopping about as the bird hopped, and every once and a while the bird would drop it and pick it up at a different angle. The longer the bird took to eat the spider the more concerned I was that some other bird or critter would snatch the spider right out of its beak…but luckily no competition appeared.
Without moving from my vantage point, which I did not want to do, for fear that the bird would just fly off, I could not see Spidee in the doorframe, adding to my concern that I was indeed, watching her becoming the dinner of another. This little bird had almost met its match. It seemed to be having a bit of trouble breaking the spider down into small enough pieces to eat. Sorry if this is getting gruesome – but as I had already committed so much time to the viewing, I just wasn’t about to give up on this feast. Each time the bird set the spider down I expected the spider to look smaller, maybe missing a leg or something…but it just kept looking the same. This bird was not making much progress, but was also not showing any signs of wear. It just kept shaking the spider this way and that. Slowly, ever so slowly, the spider began to diminish in size. Slowly. I just had to keep watching. And finally, the bird did manage to eat the whole spider. What a meal.
Once the bird had finished, I was free to move about, free to inspect Spidee’s web thoroughly. I had to go all the way out onto the porch, as sometimes she moves so far up in the corner I cannot see her. When I turned around to look back at the web, I saw that the reason I had not been able to see her was because she had moved her web to the other corner of the doorframe, just as I had suggested. And there she was as big as life! She was alive and waiting for her dinner to show up…she had not become someone else’s dinner. Not just yet anyway.
Over the course of these weeks, I watch Spidee continue to maintain her beautiful web. Each morning when I survey the day, I check to see if she is still there, and I inspect her web. Sometimes she is in the middle of repairing one or another of the edges with great precision and diligence. And each time I have seen it damaged she just gets right to it…back and forth she moves, excreting the almost invisible line, moving from attachment point to attachment point with a gentle rhythm.
One morning she was not out working on her web. I went out on the porch to greet her and my heart sank. She was all curled in on herself up in the corner. Fearing that she was dead, I gently tapped on the doorframe close to where she was curled up…no response. Having never known one spider for this amount of time, I really had no idea if this might be it. But it sure seemed like it. Later on in the day, returning home, with my foot on the first step of the front porch I remembered Spidee. My heart sank a little, but as I stepped onto the porch, there she was! She was in her usual place and had built a completely new web and wow it was beautiful. She was right in the middle of wrapping up her next meal…a long-legged, wispy, flying insect that many folks call “Daddy-Long-Legs”…the ones whose legs and wings seem so loosely attached. There were also a couple of termites in the web – for later on. I was so happy to see her and amazed that we were continuing our neighborhood visits.
Last night I arrived home after a five-day trip. I told my friends about Spidee and we all wondered if she’d be here when I returned. It seemed like a long time…although I have no idea what her lifespan might be. Approaching my cabin I reminded myself about the web…that I needed to bend my knees, then I dropped something. I picked it up and climbed the steps. There she was! Spidee was there in the middle of the web, just like always. “Hi Spidee,” I said, standing there, marveling at my neighbor’s work. With my arms and shoulders full of my traveling possessions I went inside AND FORGOT TO BEND MY KNEES and broke the web quite thoroughly. With part of the web on my face, I moaned and apologized for my clumsiness.
We had a big storm last night with lots of wind and rain. This morning her web was in great disarray and Spidee was up in her corner. The web did not get rebuilt today, or tonight. Maybe this is it. Maybe not. None of us ever know when it’s our time…until it is.
Update: It’s two days later and Spidee has completely remade her web. Now there is a scrawled message on a scrap of paper taped to the outside of my door, carefully positioned low enough to make people bend their knees while reading it. “Welcome! Please duck below the spider web when you come in.” One more thing…I have realized that the web is now designed so I can walk completely in and out my door without bending my knees…even the supports are just out of my range. I am in awe.