The Writing Spider

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single spider in possession of a good web must be in want of prey. But in the garden this season, I learned again that there are many ways we nourish and are nourished.

I first met Jane in early August, when I was weeding the large garden near the river. She had woven her distinct web across one of the sage plants, and its intricate stabilimenta zig-zagged, zipper-like, across the orb-web’s center. She was the largest and most brilliantly-colored garden spider I’d ever seen, so I fetched the camera and took several pictures from a respectful distance, and later researched her species and background. Her scientific classification was logical: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Anthropoda; Class: Arachnida; Order: Araneae; Family: Araneidae; Genus: Argiope; and Species: Argiope Aurantia (like an orange, though she was colored in brilliant yellow and black).

When I learned that one of her nicknames is “the writing spider,” she of course became further classified as a kindred spirit, and I christened her “Jane” after Jane Austen, a name to which she did not evidence rejection. For more than a month, we met several times a week, and she hospitably endured my observations.

Understand, Gentle Reader, that were Jane to visit my home’s interior, the sound of my arachnophobic screams would make international (and possibly intergalactic) news, but spiders do not bother me when they are outside, weaving their webs and living their lives within the larger web of nature, the home we all share.

Miss Jane, I learned, liked to remain in one place for most of her life, a homebody like myself. The creation of her web took hours and its complexity was miraculous: its architecture could be up to two feet across and up to eight feet off the ground. She usually remained at the web’s midpoint, head down (as I always found her), awaiting innocent prey’s entanglement. When I met her, the remaining wing of a swallowtail butterfly decorated her web, as did bits and pieces of insects.

Jane consumed the center of her web each night, possibly for nourishment or to recycle chemicals used in the web’s construction, and re-wove it daily, including the delightful “written” zipper (“stabilimenta”) across the middle. I could not discover a definitive  explanation for this part of her web, except that some scientists have suggested it may serve as camouflage or in some way attract prey. I also learned that among orb-weavers, the Aurantia is known for her unusually tidy and clean web. Other orb-weavers are content with disorder, clutter, and mess. Jane rose yet again in my regard and respect.

I never met Jane’s mate. He would have woven a “lesser” web nearby, including an escape line in case she attacked him; at any rate, he died after their love was consummated and she likely ate him.(Understandably, my husband Phillip does not like this part of Jane’s story.) But he did exist, for one day I discovered the egg sac, a delicate brown silken ball almost an inch in diameter, fixed near the web’s enter, and Jane hanging nearby, guarding it as vigilantly as  any artist watches over her creation. I read that within this tiny ball, up to 1,400 eggs were settled and would be harbored till spring, were they not harmed by birds, the elements, or other likely hazards.

We had a gentle frost one night several weeks after Jane and I  became garden companions, and Jane was nowhere to be found; it is the common way for females of her species to die. I mourned her loss; we had an elegant, mutually intriguing (or so it seemed to me) relationship.

When I cut back the plants this weekend and neared the sage that was Jane’s home, I gently severed the branch holding her egg sac, and placed it under an evergreen shrub, settled within a bed of sedum and violets.

If the egg sac survives through winter, one day next spring, I could see what seems to be pollen or dust collecting within the silken sac…the tiny bodies of Jane’s progeny responding to Love’s call to write their own life stories. I hope some will decide to stay and grace our gardens with the elegance and artistry—and kinship—I shared with their mother.

We’re all here such a precious little while, invited to write the words, dance the dance, and create the art seeded within our spirits at its inception; the whole of life depends upon both our singular contributions and our abilities to form connections that welcome, encourage, and sustain the unique contributions of others.

It may be in the nature of the Kingdom Animalia to capture and devour prey; however, the instinct to forge connection and co-exist with deep humility, hospitality, and respect is also a lovely part of our mysterious story. In relationship, we nourish and are nourished.

Thank you, Jane.

3 thoughts on “The Writing Spider

  1. I keep coming back to this essay, because there’s something that lingers in my mind when I re read the last line, particularly. This is absolutely one of your most brilliant masterpieces, and thank you for sharing it. I know I’ll keep coming back to take in more of your vision, wisdom and loving embrace of life.

  2. After my first read, I was very sad that when you didn’t find Jane the morning after the first frost. I thought that even though this was a story set in autumn that it would end with one last visit with Jane. But it ends a far richer and more nuanced affirmation of life. Her progeny will awaken next spring, as you say, and “write their own stories.” Thank you again!

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