It’s the height of summer, and a spider has taken over my backyard. I was slow to realize the extent of her labors, or to recognize that she was the sole author. They were at first simply increasingly frequent annoyances. I found myself brushing away webs when I didn’t expect them, where they hadn’t been only the day before.
Bounded on two sides by six-foot-high fences, and on the other two sides by the house and the garage, canopied in one corner by a grand and venerable maple, and in the other by a humble, muslin-shrouded gazebo, the yard is an oasis. Beneath the maple a smallish pond is fed continuously by water streaming from an urn carried by a gray stone statue of a Greek woman. The water attracts the birds: sparrows mostly, but occasionally doves and cardinals as well. Raccoons and rabbits have found their way inside our little paradise, as well as possums, but they’re inevitably driven out by our three dogs. Alert and perpetually spoiling for action, they keep the squirrels treed and the larger creatures from setting down roots.
Spiders on the other hand, fall a bit below their radar, although they’re not above snapping at the occasional fly. Throughout the yard, the flies are a constant and insistent presence. When the doors to the house are open, they wander in and allow themselves to become entangled in the swirling eddies of air beneath the spinning ceiling fans, or struggle helplessly to get back outside through window screens, apparently incapable of finding their way back to the doorways through which they entered. It’s these poor stragglers the dogs set their sights on, leaping and biting into the air where a fly had been only a microsecond before.
Ironically, it’s the dogs’ continuous and reliable output that, more than anything, attracts the flies. The easiest way to find their droppings is to locate the shimmering and pulsating metallic green that marks the swarm that surrounds what the dogs have left behind. Often, when the heat becomes too much to take, they abandon their meals and congregate in the cool of the concrete stairwell that leads down to the basement of the house. It was there that I first saw her.
On my way from the basement out to the backyard, I braced myself for the usual swirl of flies cooling themselves just outside the door. Instead, I ran head first into the sticky white threads, just before seeing the intricate and meticulous web at the center of them. Careful to break only the edges in order to pass through, the heart of the web retained its integrity, and I saw her crawl away slowly but deliberately from her perch. As I watched, I made note of her thick torso and hairy legs, and of the concentric yellow stripes that ringed them.
Once safely past, I remembered the recent proliferation of webs throughout the yard, the ones I’d noticed but not quite made note of. At least three graced each of the two fences, spaced at even intervals, reminiscent of the safety nets used by trapeze artists with nothing to prove. Another had caught me unawares the day before in the narrow space between the corner of the house and one of the fences.
And finally, I remembered the recent easing of the sense of inundation so typical to hot summer days dense with the buzzing of those innumerable and relentless, fecal-sniffing and carrion-seeking pests, whose very presence unnerves and disgusts on such a visceral level. I suppose the same could be said about spiders, but it wouldn’t by me. I, for one, am grateful for her work, and regret every web of hers that I find myself breaking, either by accident or necessity.
A spider has taken over my backyard, and I have no doubt that it is a she, and I welcome her with open arms.