I don’t remember what year the spider first appeared. We have spent nine summers in this house and I can’t remember the spider not being there. I know that at the beginning my daughter had to use a step-stool to see the spider and I had to lift my son. This year of course he is tall enough to be eye level with the spider, my daughter too, so it has been many years that the spider has lived in the window. We do know that it is not the same spider, it is generations of spiders who are hatched in that spot and every year one stays to repeat the cycle. Before we had the window replaced last week I peeked up into the exterior frame and saw the egg sack neatly tucked in, protected from the elements so that in the spring we would have hundreds of tiny bright orange spider babies floating down from the window to make their way in the world of the garden. Except for the one that stays in the window and grows fat over the summer months until she disappears one day in the early fall. But last week we replaced the window and the frame with the egg sack is gone and now, well I am afraid for the spiders and the change in their ancestral home. And deeply grieving the loss of an entire generation of window spiders.
I am not someone who is afraid of spiders. They do us a great service in eating other insects that I like not at all and so I have a great appreciation for their work in the garden and mostly I leave them alone in the house. When they get into spots I really need them to not be in I catch and release, and I am the one who has to point out to the other people I live with that, “no, that can’t be a spider bite because look there is only one puncture point, not two and the vast majority of spiders in the house don’t have the ability to bite a human anyway.” The poor spiders are much maligned.
The garden spiders are beautiful. Their webs are exquisite pieces of artwork that catch the light and the dew always in just the perfect spot, it feels like fairy magic. If you don’t like spiders it sometimes also feels a little disconcerting when you walk through a web. There is the month or so in late summer when they all seem to be building their webs across the walkway in the front of the house every night, and every morning we destroy them, and there is that moment of unpleasantness when you have web on your face and you really don’t want the web on your face, and also maybe there is a spider on you somewhere and you don’t want that either. I don’t care that much but with my daughter there would be much yelling and flailing of hands and tight panicked breathing until we provided an all clear report. Still though they are beautiful. I especially like the large black ones with the yellow stripes down their back. There are fewer of those and they stay mostly in the upper yard near the sort of pathetic grape vine that I have failed to properly tend. There are more of the spiders that look like the one in the window: dark brown around the edges of the abdomen, beige in the center with a light orange stripe and almost a hint of blue.
She would start out very small in mid-spring. Maybe the size of a child’s small fingernail sitting in the corner of the window. Late at night you could see her in the middle of the web waiting. Every year one or two times if we were lucky we would see her catch something, wrapping it up and eating. The miracle of nature just on the other side of a single pane of glass. By August her abdomen was as large as an adult’s thumb nail, fat and round and swelling more and more through September until she looked like a kumquat ready to pop. After the equinox, at the beginning of the fall she would disappear and if you looked up into the frame you would see the eggs, waiting. This year there was an earthquake that rattled the house for too long and the single thin pane of glass cracked. The windows had to be replaced sooner than we had hoped. My husband suggested I could climb up and rescue the eggs, he knew I was upset. But I didn’t do that, for a variety of reasons, and now the window and the eggs are gone. I know that we have many other brown spiders that have laid their eggs in the yard, and that we will have a new generation in all the spots where they usually are, it is not like we will be without spiders. Maybe one of the deck spiders will make its way back up and we will start anew. That is what happens when the unexpected happens, you start again. It’s just this: it was familiar, it was known, it is missed and now we will wait and see. Sigh.