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A Spider Looks at Winter

09 Dec

A modest-sized orb weaver has been living outside the workshop door since summer. We noticed her around August when she’d become big enough to alarm the timid (though she is not big by orb weaver standards) and had begun maintaining a pizza-slice-shaped web near one of the security lights. By day, she huddled in a crack with a bit of dirty silk and tried to look like a dead leaf. But at night she would unfold, all legs and confidence, take up station in the center of her oblique net, and sit poised and patient, waiting for the doomed insects who bumble toward the light.

We named her Natasha. We have a habit of naming spiders that pass by, even ones we know just long enough to carry them outside.

“Oh, look at you, Derek. What are you doing in the sink? Again? You scamp.”

“My, my. Danielle has put on a few. Must be that time of year, right? Why don’t you go raise some kids outdoors?”

“Maybelline! That is not a good place for a web. Out you go.”

Natasha reminded me right away of the character played by Natasha Lyonne on “Orange Is the New Black.” Flamboyant, fierce, comfortable in her skin, not to be messed with. You’d be on your guard even if you got on her good side. But she’s good-hearted, if eager to pounce.

Our Natasha suspended herself above eye level; but for the grace of spider discretion, she could have been one of those autumn orb weavers who dangle in front of your forehead at night when you’re taking out the trash, and make you do the spider dance for an hour afterward. An in-your-face kind of spider.

Natasha is dying. The little angel of death is withdrawing toward her own, sure as winter. She held out longer than most—the annual tide of scare stories, the half-thought spider nonsense you read online, abated many weeks ago, even among the tabloid-reading Brits. Late summer and fall is when you read about many such dangling Natashas and their roving male counterparts as they remind inattentive reporters and bloggers that spiders exist. The females dine and wait, growing fat in the warm-weather afterglow. The males dash about in search of their own posterity, carrying out their desperate last steps long before the nights turn long. By mid-December they are gone, save for a lonely few.

That’s what gave me the chance to know Natasha better than the other small creatures taken by winter. She has played her part deep into fall, and played it well. She still rests in her retreat by day, but with nights dipping below freezing I don’t see her venture out onto her web anymore. Clearly there are fewer flies, moths, and other ephemeral food to make it worthwhile. But more: she knows. There was a time to await mates, and a time to cease waiting. A time to harvest, and a time to be harvested.

Winter comes in a few days. Stealing a thought from Frost: Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild/ Should waste them all. . . .

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

E. B. White gave Charlotte her children, or else his spider’s tale would have been too hard to bear. I’ll look for Natasha’s children in spring, along the wall.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Araneus (orb weavers)

 

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