It was a cold autumn evening, and, standing under a suburban street light in a spate of leaves and beginning snow, I was suddenly conscious of some huge and hairy shadows dancing over the pavement. They seemed attached to an odd, globular shape that was magnified above me. There was no mistaking it. I was standing under the shadow of an orb-weaving spider…There she was, the universe running down around her, warmly arranged among her guy ropes attached to the lamp supports – a great black and yellow embodiment of the life force, not giving up to either frost or stepladders. She ignored me and went on tightening and improving her web.
The exact kind of spider - this one finding warmth on a cold autumn evening in the false sunlight of a streetlamp - to which I was paying homage. It amazes me how often these small coincidences happen.
As Mr. Eiseley sent my thoughts back to spiders and our missing black-and-yellow garden orbs, I ran a quick mental inventory of other insect companions and found that there are quite a few on the MIA list this summer. While there are more grasshoppers than usual, there are no mosquitoes (hooray!), no deer flies (though the irksome horseflies have survived), or fireflies; not a single ladybug or her less helpful imposter (the Asian Lady Beetle) – and we are missing yet another kind of orb-weaving spider. These I call the Night Spiders, because they begin their work as evening falls and they are gone again, or nearly gone by the time the sun rises. They can be fairly large; they’re a light speckled-brown and tuck themselves into tiny, prickly balls and wait in the center of their perfectly-constructed webs. They populate the length of our tree-lined driveway, one after the other suspended in the branches, sending long strings of thick silk from one side to the other, sometimes anchoring their webs on rocks along the drive. Then they begin the slow task of spinning the deadly, trapping parts of their webs. In the morning they patiently reel in their hard work – I know because I’ve watched them – but occasionally they forget a strand or two. I know this because I’ve walked into them. It’s like brushing past a remnant of the night world, something from the dark, something of which you catch only the smallest, unsettling glimpse. A very sticky piece of the night.
(Another small coincidence. The morning after I wrote this post, I stepped outside into the pre-dawn gray and pink and there, right by the door, was a Night Spider - as if to say, yes, we are still here. She'd strung her web between the tall holly and a small bush growing up from the monkey grass. It was too dark to take a picture, so I waited about an hour and came back. By that time, there was no trace of her or her web.)