Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Little Friend, 2010

Sue and I went out for dinner tonight, then stopped to pick up a prescription, and when we came out to the car, it was starting to get dark—and I realized I’d have to drive home extra carefully.

Remember I told you how, when I was a kid, one of our neighbor ladies used to call my mom and invite me over whenever her gardening activities had revealed a cool bug, snake, or frog? She would say, “Send Julie over—I’ve found another one of her little friends.

Yes, tonight the subject is another creepy critter—a spider. I’ve been holding off on writing about this, because I’ve been unable to identify her to my satisfaction. It’s darned annoying. It’s vexing. But I’m trying to let go of her name and just enjoy having her around.

The only sure name I have for her is “Araneidae,” which is simply the family name for the orb-weavers. This is the group of spiders whose females make the stereotypical ornate, rounded, flat web. One of the big rock stars of this group is the black-and-yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia; so is Micrathena gracilis.

But I’m really busted on this one. As for genus, I suspect she is in either Araneus or Neoscona—but the only reason I say this is merely because those two groups seem to be large and “difficult to identify.”

One thing that makes her so hard to identify is that she is strictly nocturnal and hides during the day—within the casing of my car’s rear-view mirror. Yes: she lives behind the mirror itself. Sometimes I can see her peeking out from the crack at the bottom of the mirror.

(She’s one of the orb-weavers who, during her “off hours,” hides in a crevice near her web, gripping a line connected tangentially to the orb—when the orb quivers with a trapped insect, she feels the vibrations in the line and comes out to see who’s dropped in for dinner.)

So I’ve had a hard time photographing her—it’s always too dark, plus she’s in front of a mirror, and that confuses my camera’s autofocus. It’s just impossible! Of course, I apologize for these pictures—I wish I had a better picture of her just for myself, because she’s worth remembering as an individual.

Yes. Her companionship this summer has reminded me of how an individual spider can set up residence in your yard, in your life, and you can see her grow and develop, carry on the business of life, mate, lay eggs, mature, and die, over the long course of the growing season. You’ve read Charlotte’s Web—it’s kind of like that. You don’t have to be a pig to form a relationship with a spider—it only takes a little time, and awareness.

I first became aware of this spider on Saturday, July 31, in the early morning. We had just set out for a trip to northern Ohio. Her web was strung right in front of the mirror, parallel to its surface, and doggone if that little brown spider wasn’t out there bouncing around in the wind, as we sped to St. Louis around seventy miles per hour. What was she trying to do? Silly nut. Hide, darn it!

I was sure she’d be a goner—whisked into the screaming traffic—but no, she managed to creep back behind the mirror.

She actually ventured out a few more times before we got to the Highway 370 bypass, but after that, I didn’t see her anymore for the rest of the trip.

But she hung in there. We stayed a week in Ohio—I wonder if she found the bugs tasty up there?—and then we drove all the way back to Missouri. We put fourteen hundred miles on the Civic, and still she was there.

And she’s been there ever since. We’ve taken several trips since then—at least three to St. Louis, plus one long afternoon drive on dusty gravel roads from Claysville through Hartsburg to Easley. I don’t know how many times she’s ridden with me to Columbia and back.

After all that hard traveling, I guess I shouldn’t have been too worried about her safety this evening, but as we progress toward the chill of autumn, which eventually brings death to most spiders, she seems more delicate to me now, and more precious.

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