Down the Water Spout, and Other Thoughts on Spider Season

The spider’s web: She finds an innocuous corner in which to spin her web. The longer the web takes, the more fabulous its construction. She has no need to chase. She sits quietly, her patience a consummate force; she waits for her prey to come to her on their own, and then she ensnares them, injects them with venom, rendering them unable to escape. Spiders – so needed and yet so misunderstood.
― Donna Lynn Hope

In the early dark morning I make coffee, pouring cold filtered water into the waiting reservoir, spooning rich brown beans into the grinder. Scent rises as the beans pulverize; I sift the fragrant fragments into the basket, trying to scrape every little flavorful bit into my future cup of joe.

I clean the grinder and its lid over the sink.

Then the sink needs cleaning. I rinse out last night’s dishcloth—the one I will toss into the laundry in just moments—and I wipe down the left-hand sink, mopping up the dark gritty coffee residue.

There’s a little round glob of something in the right-hand sink. But when I turn with my dishcloth to send it down the drain, it moves. Legs stiletto out, and the glob scurries.

I should get a piece of paper and lift that spider outside.

But even as I am thinking this, I grab the sprayer, strengthen the stream, and the spider flails once, then swooshes down the drain.

Another dead spider.

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What if, when it’s time to meet my maker, I am faced with the kinds of deaths I have meted?

What if I have to walk across a shiny tiled floor, scuttling quickly, thinking, Yes! I am almost there! when a horrible shadow looms over me, and SPLAT! I am residue on the bottom of a giant sole?

What if I am wandering around, looking for something to eat, minding my own damned business, when an oversized hand blocks out my sunshine and smooshes me inside a giant wad of Kleenex?

What if, yes, I am scaling smooth porcelain walls, feeling like I’m making progress, nearing safety, when a giant blast of steaming water washes me down into a dank black drain?

Oh, karma: what a son of a gun that would be.

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But still.

If I see another spider, almost before I have time for conscious thought, I am pretty sure I’ll squish it.

As the song-maker says, I don’t like spiders and snakes.

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Spiders. Arachnids, named for Arachne, the beauty who, because she challenged Athena in Greek myth, sprouted eight legs and became a creature some call ugly. I am in that group: spiders give me the shivers.

(“Even tarantulas?” asks my son Jim. “They’re furry! They’re cute! They’d make great pets.”

“Oh, no,” I say. “Not in my house. Not ever.”

Bad enough dealing with the spiders that nature provides; we don’t have to import them in jumbo, hairy sizes.)

National Geographic tells me that there over 45,000 varieties of spider, all over the world, in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They all have eight legs; they all have six or eight eyes, although that doesn’t make most of them keen see-ers. (Hence the easy squishing, I guess.)

All spiders are venomous to some degree, the site tells me. (When I was a child, I had a bug bite that swelled angrily and wept. “Ah,” my mother said; “I don’t think that’s a mosquito bite. I think a spider got you.”

She made a paste of baking soda and water and caked it thickly onto the achy red lump. By morning, the paste had dried and flaked onto my bedsheets, but the swelling and redness had calmed.

It took days for the lump to disappear, though, and the experience confirmed what I already knew, young though I was: I didn’t like spiders.)

Only a few spiders have venom that poses real threat to humans, though. Two of those, the brown recluse and the black widow, are US citizens.

And National Geographic reminds me of the essential service those carnivorous spiders provide as they lure prey to their webs or go out actively hunting. They’re unable to munch on their crunchy catches; they inject them, instead, with their own body fluids, and they liquefy themselves some innards. Then the spiders drink their dinners.

Scientists posit that, without spiders, our crop fields would be overrun by insect pests, and our food supply would be irrevocably harmed.

We NEED spiders.

But: eeeuw.

I don’t like spiders.

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And it is spider season.

The spider that was web-spinning in the carport has packed its bags and moved on, but the spider that lives on the garage, the one that spun a thick sticky web right by the garbage can, seems entrenched. And that sucker is big. She displaces air when she scuttles; I can feel it.

When I meander out to deposit my brimming, corn-plastic, biodegradable bag into the bin, she rushes up the web. She lodges on a ledge between the gutter and the eave.

She watches me.

She is furry, fat, and malevolent.

I am glad she’s keeping the bug population down, but I wish I didn’t have to see her do it.

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I’m wondering why. Why are spiders Hallowe’en symbols?

I type ‘spiders and Hallowe’en’ into a search engine.

My search yields 167,000,000 hits. The first thousand or so don’t tell me why spiders are a Hallowe’en icon. They tell me where to buy all kinds of plastic, paper, and metallic spiders. They tell me how to make cute spider cookies out of chocolate-dipped Oreos and pretzel sticks and sugar eyes. They suggest all kinds of spider-themed decorations—fake webby stuff you can hang on your trees, creepily lifelike giant spiders that will hang, quivering, in those webs. (Did I tell you that National Geographic said there’s one spider, the Goliath birdeater, that’s almost a foot wide from toe to toe? It’s a tarantula, and I don’t hope to see one in my lifetime. Why on earth would I hang an even bigger replica from my nice sweet gum tree?)

I give up searching for the reason spiders and Hallowe’en mesh so well. I know why: Hallowe’en celebrates creepy things.

Spiders are creepy.

In case I didn’t mention it, I really don’t like spiders.

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Mark and I head out to walk in the morning coolth, and I walk right into a long sticky strand of web, long enough to stretch from tall tree limb to damp, cold ground. Ack. I wipe it off; it touched my FACE; it’s on my hand.

As we walk, I feel invisible stiletto legs tracing a chilly path up my spine.

ACK!

They’re everywhere.

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And we celebrate them! We write books about them! We put them in movies!

Think of Frodo, sedated to a zombie-like state in Shelob’s horrible den. (Sam! Where are you????)

Think of that trickster Anansi.

Think of Spiderman.

And, oh, of course, think of Charlotte.

All right: I cried the first time I read Charlotte’s Web and the damned spider died. She was a good friend to Wilbur, I’ll give her that. But Wilbur, nice, mammal-y Wilbur, was still my favorite character.

Maureen Corrigan, on NPRcom, relates that E.B. White was inspired to write Charlotte’s Web by a spider he encountered in his barn. He watched that spider for a month, until he realized she had disappeared, leaving behind a sac of eggs. So White, the story goes, took that egg sac and put it in a warm, safe place: on top of his wardrobe.

And the eggs hatched, and the babies roamed his bedroom, spinning their baby webs on his dresser top, from drawer handle to door handle, in his hairbrush.

The housekeeper didn’t like it, but the hatching babies hatched the story of Charlotte and Wilbur, too.

It’s a wonderful story, of course. But I’m with the housekeeper.

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We walk in the morning. We don’t know if the haze we walk in is fog, or if it’s smoke blowing across the country from the vicious fires that haunt the west coast. It makes visibility difficult, and we walk carefully.

But the spider webs on the bushes stand out in bold relief, their fine fibers outlined in dense dew. Each thick web (they look like chapel veils; they are on bushes and on the ground; they are shards of sticky lace, randomly dropped) has a funnel in the middle. Mark goes and blows into the mysterious hole, and sometimes angry spiders scuttle out to challenge him.

I know those spiders eat flies and mosquitoes. I know they are allies.

They are probably, as people are wont to say, more frightened of me than I am of them. (Maybe.)

But they are so…. different. They have EIGHT legs! They have six eyes, or they have eight eyes. Their bodies are bulbous. They sport malevolent markings or weird looking fur. They wrap up their prey and liquefy them.

They are venomous, and they are other, and someone told me once that they crawl into my mouth when I am sleeping.

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Ah, it’s spider season: a window into otherness.

If you don’t mind, though, I’d just as lief not look.