Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Spider Ma’am

I’ve heard you’re never more than three feet from a spider, anywhere on Earth. This is a tribute to the life force of spiders, whose adaptive persistence connects – I have to say it – everything in the Web of Life.

Last spring a spider spun up housekeeping around the sill of my kitchen window. Definitely not an orb-weaver, this diligent arthropod cobwebbed together the branches of my rosemary plant, salt shakers, a crystal vase and two tall ruby goblets I use to root philodendron cuttings. Leaves, twigs, glass, ceramic, metal – all were joined in a hammock-like asymmetry where other insects became her lunch. The spider hung out, not in her web, but in the china potato where I keep my fresh garlic.

This spider was big, striped brown and very busy. When her web got bedraggled, I vacuumed it up and she re-wove it, overnight. We repeated this cycle of vacuum/rebuild a couple of times as the seasons progressed. I helped keep her web-world tidy and she debugged my kitchen.

Then a branch of my family planned to visit for Thanksgiving. I worried about the spider in relation to these relatives. Their house is always perfectly clean, with swagged and tassled window treatments, white carpeting and stuffed leather sofas. A chasm of contrast gaped in my mind between their brand-new human-ideal environment and my eclecticly appointed, diversely inhabited, casual Nature Haven home.

Thinking it would put our best foot and pedipalp forward, I cleaned the windowsill one more time. Mme. Spider retreated deep into the potato.

Alarmed and ashamed of my vacuous reaction, I climbed on a chair and leaned far over to peer beneath the potato’s rim. I could barely see a thin brown line angling out from shadows inside the ceramic wall. Relief! She was still there.

To their credit, my kinfolk were fascinated (at a distance) by my silk-swathed kitchen window and its elusive, striped inhabitant as, throughout that turkey visit, the spider worked on yet another new web.

But I had sucked up her livelihood once too often. After the first frost, no new snacks came crawling. Spider starvation would be my fault.

I searched other windowsills for flies and dropped them into the empty web. Could there be appeal (or food value) in my sad menu of stiffs? When hibernating ladybugs lost their grip on our bedroom ceiling, a giant waitress served them promptly, in a uniform resembling a bathrobe.

Winter raged and small holes ripped in the web. Dust motes gathered on its sloping threads, twinkling in the morning sun like microscopic snow drifts. Shriveled rosemary leaves dangled from its ragged threads, but I didn’t touch that web.

I also didn’t see the spider, except once, as she skittered out of reach when I pulled a clove of garlic off the bulb in her potato.

Was she hibernating? I read that some spiders do. Was she dead? I learned that some arachnids live for years, in hospitable environments. I wanted to write WELCOME in the particle strata now peacefully coating the undisturbed sill.

The days grew longer. Through the scraggly spider web new shoots sprouted, tenderly green, along the old rosemary stems. Outside, ice sheets puddled into mud.

One morning I stopped my flow of coffee in mid-pour when a nervous motion caught my eye, high up on the kitchen window. Two small brown striped spiders skittered up the wooden sash. One stepped off into the air and sailed out past a ruby goblet, on its strand of building silk.

Jean Ponzi hosts the Earthworms enviro-podcasts, conversing each week on topics Green on Independent Media KDHX. Pick ‘em up at Podcasts.KDHX.org, or through iTunes.