On October 2, the spiders were all gone. Hundreds of them scattered, off into the world to fend for themselves. Their home remained, still sturdy in spite of the winds and rains of Hurricane Irene. I blew on it lightly, just to make sure. Not a movement. The spiders had left their secure place, a web that was attached to the water fountain.
I had been checking this water fountain for the past three weeks as I took my morning walk with our dog Lucy through the New York State Campsite along the Beaverkill River. The web had caught the early sun one morning and when I bent down to look at it, stretched from the fountain “hood” down to the spigot handle, I was curious because there was nothing caught in this tight, oblong web. I looked more closely and saw the big egg sac lodged against the lip of the fountain. Just outside of the web, a very large, brown-and-black spider waited. It was Big Mama guarding her offspring–hundreds of them.
Big Mama was not deterred in her watch as I moved around and tried to figure out what was going on. I saw a flurry of activity as microscopic spiders crawled out of the sac and then hurried back in. I kept watch on this sturdy, natural phenomenon as the weeks went by, and Big Mama never moved beyond her guarding station.
Finally the spiders appeared and began to leave the web by crawling down a long “web line” that the mother spider had dropped for them, stretching from the fountain down to the grass below. Each day more spiders left and others milled about, trying to get up their nerve to go out into the world. After a couple of weeks, Big Mama disappeared.
In the River Reporter newspaper, I saw a short article on fish spiders; the picture closely resembled Big Mama, so I looked up information about them. Since this spider had just laid her eggs, I checked the section on reproduction and read: “Female fishing spiders are larger than the males. If a female chooses to eat a male after mating, there is usually little he can do about it. This behavior may help the female by providing the nutrition she needs to produce healthy young, while the male gets the benefit of passing his genes on to a well-fed next generation.”
Certainly, no male was evident–so we can assume the worst.
I also learned that that the little spiders are susceptible to being consumed by dragonflies, which are plentiful along the river at this time of year. Wasps also sting and paralyze mature spiders and lay their eggs in their abdomens. When the baby wasps emerge, they eat the spider for their first sustenance. The spiders, on the other hand, prey on “water striders,” those gossamer bugs that skid across the surface of the water.
One morning I saw a spider, already larger than the minuscule creatures just emerging from the sac, scurry back up the post towards the web. I watched her come up, check things out around the web, explore a bit, and then travel back down to the earth. I wondered if she was a little homesick for her siblings and had come back for a visit. But then she must have realized you can’t go home again. I thought of what these little animals had in store–winter coming on, fewer insects already, and miles to go before they could rest. I have no idea what they do over the winter, but I wished them well as they scurried down to the ground.
It’s tough out in the natural world. Not only do I wish the spiders well, I hope the hummingbirds who spent the summer buzzing throughout our gardens make it safely to Costa Rica. And “bon voyage” to the multitude of monarchs who spent a few days flitting around our asters as they prepared to fly to Mexico. Same to the flocks of robins–I always wonder if the same flocks fly through our yard in the fall as fly on their way north in April. And the doves are collecting at night to stay together in the hemlock trees across the road.
One may think of the perils of the natural world, but this fall nature has been especially bountiful with the growth of apples. There has never been an apple crop like we have this year. Every tree–old, young, sprayed, or never sprayed–is laden with perfectly formed, beautifully crisp apples. Thousands and thousands of apples are to be found in this part of the Catskills.
Looking at trees in our yard, along the road, and standing in old fields–every one of them filled with apples–I couldn’t help but think of the Apple logo pictured everywhere after the death of Steve Jobs.
Aristotle said, “Nature does nothing uselessly.” Farmers used to say that a heavy crop meant a harsh winter ahead. The apples in our yard and the Apple of recent technology could both be emblematic. The natural apples will help us get through a harsh winter–and I believe that the technological “apple” will help us get through a harsh climate. The brilliance of the individuals who created the Internet and such things as iPhones can be used to find ways to produce energy without devastating the earth and threatening our future. Technology got us into this place; perhaps it can get us out.
The intricacies of technology can be used to protect our earth, just like the intricacies of Big Mama Spider’s web protected her “spider world” through the high winds and heavy rains of Hurricane Irene. It’s amazing what happens in our own back yards.