July 07, 2002

The Season of Spiders

It is officially the middle of summer. Not the weatherman official but the man-or-women-in-the-sticks official middle of the summer. Six more weeks until Fall begins. This few people know, because they don't know how to read the spiders.

In our household, it is the MamaBear who puts the most miles in frantically-pensive sanity walks around our well-mown AT (in some circles this would denote the Appalachian Trail, but in our valley it is the Annie Trail. (Once had a delivery man pulled up to the house with a package and a puzzled and apprehensive look on his face. "Did you know that about half a mile back there is a woman in the woods with a lawnmower?" I think he was probably hearing Dueling Banjos at about this time. He left quickly.) Yes, she push-mows about 3/4 mile of trail, a small price to pay for what passes for mental homeostasis.

So, we walk the AT every morning, down low along the pasture, then across the creek and up along the 'middle road' through the Rhododendrons and Mt. Laurels and mixed hardwoods. Yesterday it became obvious that mid-summer was here. The small spiders (species unknown) of mid-summer are now actively 'bridging': extruding their invisible one-strand silks on the air currents across gaps between tree branches, blackberry canes, whatever they can find, and especially across open spaces, like footpaths. This spider event is one of the hopeful signs of Fall to come, and I am glad to see them, if annoyed by their attempts to snare me as food.

It is precisely at this point in the summer that a 'spider stick' is necessary on our morning walks. Without it, be prepared about every 20 feet to swipe your hand ineffectually across your face to remove the invisible stand of microscopic spider juice. Occasionally you'll stare cross-eyed at a small non-descript arachnid dangling from the bill of your cap...no real threat here, just the less-than-wonderful sensation that things are hanging from you like tinsel from a Christmas tree. Hence, the spider-stick.

The person who walks first carries the stick, up high, out front like a scepter, to intercept the spider silk before it becomes festooned across the eyebrows and cheeks. Ann and I take turns with this duty. But it is almost always the dog who goes first; so we are toying with the idea of strapping a TV antenna to his back. Hey, it could work!

In four weeks, the Spiny Spiders (genus Micrathena) will show up. These are very visible, ornate, chunky critters that live in a rolled leaf at the highest point of their web. They spin more elaborate webs across the path, and without the stick, these bizarre but harmless little monsters often end up perched on the rim of your glasses. You gotta have that stick. Soon the inch-thick, round bodied orb-weavers too will be stringing their snares across the path, out to capture a hiker; It is rumoured that just one average sized pedestrian can feed an orb-weaver family for an entire year!

Summer will have ended when the balloon spiders appear in the September sky. This is true marvel that few have witnessed, and I will likely write on this topic soon, while spiders are on my mind and frequently in front of me, literally. Ah, I am being summoned to take our morning walk.

Have a good Sunday.

Posted by fred1st at July 7, 2002 07:29 AM
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