I have very few fears in nature. I greatly respect wildlife, but I’m not afraid of it. There is a difference. I am afraid, however, of spiders. Girlishly, squealingly, call-for-help afraid. At least I used to be. It all changed when a spider I named Seven, for the obvious lack of the second leg from the front on her right side, took up residence in a window outside of a spare bathroom at my old house. Seven fascinated me. She was elegant, patient, and quite the artist with a web that held the morning dew like tiny diamonds on a fine chain. A sight that initially gave me the shivers, but I could not take my eyes off of it, or her.
I watched Seven all summer. At night I turned the light on in the spare bathroom to illuminate the space behind her with a soft glow through the curtains so that small bugs and moths would be attracted to her web, ensuring her a good meal. I must say, I actually grew to care about Seven.
When sunset started to creep in a bit earlier every evening and the temperatures started to cool, I noticed that Seven wasn’t taking very good care of her web any longer. The bugs I was helping attract to her dinner table were now damaging Seven’s web. Holes that she once would have rushed to repair after containing her latest entrée in a cocoon of her silk now left gaps in her delicate lacy home.
And then came the day when I found Seven on the ground. In the cool of an early autumn morning, she had fallen from her web in the window and though still alive, she was very, very weak. I gently scooped her onto a piece of paper and moved her to my front flower bed where I placed her on soft leaves. I didn’t want her last moments to be at the mercy of my dogs, who delight in torturing bugs with games of pounce.
Seven died, as spiders do in the fall. She did not leave behind a sack of eggs as I hoped she might. She was just gone. Her web eventually fell away.
This year, I noticed a spider just like Seven, only with all eight digits, living outside the window of the sitting area just inside my bedroom door. Wynona Spider, as she is now known, has a beautiful web artfully filling one full pane of glass.
Wynona, as was Seven, is an argiope aurantia, commonly known as the black and yellow garden spider. Other names for this species are the zipper spider, corn spider, and, lo and behold, the writing spider. The latter nickname because of the similarity of the web stabilimenta (the zig-zag part down the middle) to handwriting. Well, no wonder I have a bizarre affinity for these spiders!
I have been watching Wynona all summer. She too is graceful, patient and an amazing artist. I think she is clever for building her web in a window. She has not gone hungry one night this summer. And today I notice that she has graced me with a gift. Today her once plump body has slimmed considerably and up toward the left top corner of her web, there is a round, sturdy egg sack. It is placed well, just in the corner of the window frame. It should be somewhat sheltered there from wind, rain, sleet and anything else the coming winter decides to throw at it. I know Wynona did her finest work on this sack and I know it will survive through to next spring in great form, long after she is gone.
Thanks to Seven and Wynona, I no longer cringe when I see a spider. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not heading out to purchase a pet tarantula. I’m not embracing the spiders that find their way inside my home—something Wynona would NEVER do. She understands boundaries (humor me on this one).
Fear and phobia have been replaced with respect and curiosity…from a safe distance. I am in awe of Mother Nature’s work. Instinct and the will to survive are characteristics that are strongly imprinted in every creature from Wynona, to the ants living in our driveway, to the coyotes who serenade us every night. I look forward to watching over Wynona’s incubating children over the next several months and I hope to be able to witness the moment when the little ones emerge. In the meantime, I still have the beautiful Wynona to enjoy for a bit longer and, with the prospect of a family that will likely number in the hundreds, I also have so many names to dream up…so many names.