Saturday, September 18, 2010

Along Came A (2nd Generation) Spider

By Taylor Wilson

  And one morning there she was, all black and yellow and wonderfully leggy.

  “What are you doing up there, just hanging around…?” I asked the garden spider, more to my amusement than hers.

  Crazy that I am, I continued my conversation with a spider, “Glad to meet you. I kinda been expecting and hoping you would show up. I knew your mom. And you are welcome to hang around here all you want.”

  I believe this spider’s mom had indeed inhabited the same north corner of my front porch last fall. And yes, I talked to her, too, for much of Fall ’09. And like spider’s do, that one too, left the world ’round the time of our first frost.

  I never really got to say goodbye. So I was especially pleased to see a new generation had returned to share my doorstep. And it is a great place to hunt for a spider. At night the porch lights attract plenty of prey. She’s a great hunter and I admire her for it. She had a cicada for breakfast, lunch and supper a week or so ago.

  This “black and yellow garden spider,” is also known as a writing spider, banana spider and a corn spider. But Argiope aurantia is the scientific name. Usually these (the females, anyway) are yellow or black with two rows of three white spots along its back. Argiopes also spins their web with a very unusual zigzag pattern (called a stabilimentum) in the center of it. And that zigzag is obvious outside my front door. The reason is disputed among scientists. “Perhaps it better stabilizes the web; acts as a camouflage for the spider lurking in the center; attracts prey; or warns birds of the presence of an otherwise difficult-to-see web,” they claim. Only spiders that are active during the day build stabilimentums in their webs.

  These spiders also spend most of their lives in one locale.

  So, as we are family now, I told some guys that were working on the house to leave my spider, and her doorstep corner of the world, alone. I think it was hard for one of them to do, as he had suffered the bite of a brown recluse. But for the most part they let her be. They did tell me one of the younger crew members threw another spider in her web and she finished it off. Again, I suggested/warned ’em again to leave her be. “She won’t hurt anyone,” I said.

  Obviously, she’s at home here now. She has since laid not one but two eggs up there in the corner. So maybe the legacy will continue? Next fall will tell.

  Maybe, I’ll one day regret the family affiliation and be over-run with ’em, but I kind of doubt it. And for those with arachnophobia, I have never read an obit that cited, “death by garden spider.” But if I am the first, well, we all gotta go sometime, might as well go having a friend or two hanging around.

  When I was a kid, my mom and I watched a similar spider outside our kitchen window. Mom called the spider Charlotte. It was fun and is now a well-filed and cherished memory. And of course, later we read Charlotte’s Web.

  ’Web author E.B. White also studied spiders for quite some time before he wrote the famed book. He even said of it, “Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else.”

  I haven’t gone that far, but I do visit our spider daily conveniently at our front door.

  And of the book, well, to this day one of my quotes (and I have a lot of ’em) is:

  “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” – Wilbur (the pig).

  I have shared that quote with many of my friends, that, like me (most are better than me honestly), scratch out words for some sort of pay. Admittedly, I share the quote primarily to tell them simply that they are a rare commodity—good writers and true friends.

  Of course, the spider in ’Web was a wonderful writer, saving the pig Wilbur from the smokehouse with such great words as: TERRIFIC, RADIANT and HUMBLE.

  Another quote I like is where Charlotte A. Cavatica says, ““People believe almost anything they see in print.” And well, today, that may have more implications than when the quote appeared in the book. Genetically, we have to have words, maybe for sustenance, why else would so many of us paste newspaper clippings to our refrigerators!

  It is noted that Hollywood came looking for the rights to ’Web soon after it was written. But White held out. Eventually, the film rights were sold (more than once), but the author was a stickler that his book would end as nature plays out. Charlotte lays her eggs—and dies. Her death was central to the story. And one article claims, that White held out at great financial cost to himself, for years and years, because the Hollywood people wanted a “happy ending.” But he stuck to his story like a fly to a web. And in the end even the movie versions had to let Nature run its course.

  So all said, I have this big yellow and black spider above my doorstep. Partly because it’s fun; partly because it reminds me of my mom and our shared love for words; and partly because it reminds me too, that hey, we better create what we can, while we can. A cold season comes to us all.

  Of course, my spindly-legged friend and fellow hunter also reminds that there are always threads of hope in Nature as well, like the silky, sticky ones that hold spider eggs in the corner north of my front door.

  Taylor Wilson is an editor at Bill Dance Publishing, he can be reached by email at

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