Friendly Neighborhood Spider


The big, beautiful Shelob.

A garden orb weaver spider has spun a web near our backdoor each year since we bought our home. They are most likely the offspring of the previous year’s spider. Most people would find these quarter-sized arachnids unnerving and want to banish them from their property. I’ve come to think of each as a tiny guardian keeping unwanted bugs from entering our home. I even turn the porch light to attract meals. Of course I give each one a different name, first was Alice, then Aragog (the fact that Rowling made the ancient spider male always upset me, Aragog should’ve been female), and this year, Shelob.

The spider, while big for most northern spiders, is quite skittish and easily scared by me when I let the dogs out or try to take its picture. I don’t blame her for being frightened. I have killed hundreds of spiders in my time, most because they had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, namely near Kristin or running at me across the floor (once Kristin and I had a rather large spider fall on us while we were sleeping, it didn’t live long). For the most part I leave them alone and try to help these predators in their task of regulating the bug population.

Spiders fascinate me. Their intricate webs are some of my favorite animal-made structures on the globe. I have been known to watch a spider at work building their murder nets until I lose all track of time. The intelligence of spiders makes me glad they aren’t any larger.

Because I respect and admire spiders doesn’t mean I am not afraid of them. I could never own a tarantula. I get creeped out when a large wolf spider flees from my lawn work. I have been known to squeak in terror at the discovery of a black widow or brown recluse. I could never…hug a spider if one were to suddenly be my size. And I had nightmares from the final shot of the movie Enemy.

A healthy fear and understanding of a wild thing helps me not project too much meaning onto the life of our guardian spider. I try not to romanticize the eight-legged creature and think it has human-like qualities. I also don’t think it is a monster to be immediately eradicated. But I cannot help feeling for the creature.

As the days and nights get colder and bugs begin to die out, I check for our large defender whenever I let our dogs out or sit on our deck with a book. I even talk to it. I tell it to crawl up into our attic and be warm for the last few months of its brief existence. I thank it for the horseflies, mosquitos, and occasional carpenter bee it has eaten. I know it is silly. I imagine I come off as a frightening grotesque giant mumbling on and on in my guttural tones toward a creature who just wants to hide.

Yet, I thank it. I look each summer for a new web spun by a new guardian. I welcome and name it. Sometimes I tell it of amazing kills its great-grandmother had, like a huge moth or a carpenter bee.

Next summer we plan on rebuilding our deck. I hope in that process someone helping us doesn’t destroy the new web or new spider. I should probably begin thinking of ways to explain my respect for the scary critter to the friends and family helping us. Maybe this short ode to the orb weaver will help them understand.

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