Sign of the Shifting Season

Several weeks ago I opened my door on a Sunday morning to find the upper third of it filled with a large spider web—a classic in terms of design—and in the center of the web a resident, presumably the designer, who including legs was about the size of a fifty-cent piece.  Her body itself was oval about half an inch long, with long legs directed off either end of the body, yellow and brown and striped.  She had taken over the entry like the upper half of an old farm door.

So I got a small broom I use for cobwebs and carefully removed first one lower corner of the web then one of the upper moorings, figuring that if I took the whole thing out too fast the resident would drop a line and end up somewhere on me, and I may be willing to coexist with spiders, but I’m a long way from wanting to carry them on my shoulders or wear them as a surprise accessory.  The plan worked: by the time I had the second corner unhooked she was up in the outer door frame, and I sincerely hoped that was that.

Later in the day, though, I found her still hiding in the door’s upper molding.  Her legs were drawn in and folded against each other like pairs of scissors.  She was waiting there, thinking she was invisible?  Who knows.  I just kept glancing up throughout the day as I went through the door, hoping she’d move, but she didn’t.

This time of year it always seems like the spiders are moving.  We may talk more about the first robin of spring, but out where I live, come September, and in the case this year, August, arachnids herald the change of seasons.

For a long time I thought they were trying to move indoors because it the temperatures were dropping outside.  Research tells me this isn’t the case at all:  apparently they’re more visible because they’ve matured, they’re more capable.  This is their runway moment, if you will.  Spiders on display.  At least that’s what the research says.

I came home in the early evening, and further evidence of the shift in seasons, it was dusk, and I had forgotten to leave on the porch light.  Luckily I had enough presence of mind to stop before I opened the door.  I stepped back and opened the lock at arm’s length, then pushed the door open—then I reached in and turned the light on before going through—and yes, there she was again, though this time the web was in the upper quarter of the doorway.  It wasn’t as broad, but if I hadn’t thought first I would have caught it fully on with my head.  I swatted her down with my sweatshirt this time and then shook it out over the porch, where I figured she’d descended immediately.  Then I cleaned the rest of the webbing off the door and went inside.

The next morning, I was delighted to open the door to no spider; she was teachable.  I looked out the window to check the weather then and found a large web there, with the same, striped spider, which was perfectly fine.  I do not mind sharing my space with spiders, but I’m happier if we understand each other:  they can live on their own terms as long as they stay out of my traffic.  But then I stepped out and checked the door jamb—and there was yesterday’s spider, identical to the one in the door, again drawn up and still waiting.

The second year I lived here I stained my house over the course of several September weekends, moving ladders, dusting out soffits, and I have never been a fan of spiders, but if I had any issues with them this was the time I had to either get over it or give up:  I cannot even start to describe how many I interacted with, and how many differing types.

Thinking to make a teaching moment out of it I went off to get a field guide, only to learn that there aren’t any good noes because there are so many varieties of spiders they can’t be sensibly contained in such a guide, plus, no one is sure they have them all categorized anyway.  I did learn spiders rarely have any interest in humans, and almost never bite us.  They are apparently too busy killing and eating each other.

So the house-painting did seem to have helped whatever residual squeamishness I had.  Unlike my mother, I’ve never been spider-phobic, but I’ve never been one to embrace them.  At this point, though, I’m pleased to say I can at least accept that we live together.  Good thing, too.   This time of year on many cool nights I go to take a bath and find a single black house spider the size of a pet mouse trapped in my tub.  Initially I didn’t kill them because they were simply too big and to do so in the bathtub would be pretty disgusting, like that staple of violent films to have some incident occur in the bathroom, where we’re so vulnerable, and where the blood and guts contrast against the white tile and porcelain.  No thanks.

So I keep a yogurt cup and a symphony subscription postcard on a ledge in my bedroom, and when one of these creatures materializes in the bath I scoop it up and take it outside.  I’ve read, too, that it doesn’t do them any favors, as these are actually indoor spiders and they’ll not survive outside.  But this, I figure, is not my problem, or my spiritual fitness hasn’t moved yet to whatever that next step would be.

For the moment, I figure I’m doing as well as can be expected.  I got out one of the useless field guides and went on line and I believe I have identified this year’s spider as a European Cross variety—I love it when humans project religious symbols on the forms of things like spiders.  The one in the window continues, with a hearty diet of white moths in the evening.  I haven’t seen the one from the door jamb, and I am suspicious of the other, but I try to do as I ask them to do, mind my own business, and keep to my own side of the scientific classification.

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About Kathleen G. White

Kathleen White is a writer living on the edge of Puget Sound and sizing up the discrepancies.
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