Equinoctial Arachnophilia (not the Java version)

The spiders in my garden are telling me it’s autumn. I have woken every day this past couple of weeks to a glorious, and ever-changing, exhibition of creative ‘webbery’ strung across what is supposed to be a lawn (now turned into a field since I haven’t been able to wield a lawn-mower), hung precariously between drooping branches of wild rose and tendrils of climbing clematis, and constructed delicately across the stone steps outside my back door at the perfect height to get in my face if I forget to ask permission to pass.

As we’re also into dew season, aided and abetted by overnight showers, these beautiful artifacts begin each day adorned in glistening diamonds, made even more stunning by the morning sunshine as the sun tips over the sycamore at the end of the garden and pours its low-angled rays onto the gallery. The light at this time of year is very special.

One particular spider has been here for several weeks now. It has taken up residence just outside my kitchen window where I have a small pond set into the banking. A multiplicity of ‘zebra-striped’ green reeds grow there, towering above head height from where I stand to do my washing up – and making the perfect scaffolding for web construction.

Several spiders have experimented on the site recently, but most seem to move on after a few days. Perhaps my dog’s busy day of rushing in and out of the garden at frequent intervals (her job, apparently, is cat-watch duty) causes too much of a disturbance. But this one spider has stayed, weaving her webs nearer to the fence than the garden steps, which is probably a quieter option, and in the process, granting me an amazing daily opportunity to follow her story. For it has not been an easy one.

Her first unstable attempt lasted only a couple of days. I don’t know what happened to that one, only that it wasn’t particularly dense and wasn’t securely attached by all its ‘corners’ – if there is such a thing as a corner on a web. I only know that it quickly disappeared. Maybe it was only meant as a try-out.

It was replaced by a spectacular specimen, stretching nearly a foot across, hanging perfectly in the crook of a bent reed stem and presenting row after row of intricately placed gossamer threads, glimmering in rainbow colours as the light shifted slowly across the scene during the day. It was the ultimate, classic, fairy-tale web. And she sat in the middle, legs akimbo, waiting patiently, just as a fairy-tale spider should. The magnificence of her creation brought tears to my eyes.

Then it rained! Heavily! And when I looked out the next morning, there she was, clinging to the remnants of a small, damp piece of cobweb-cloth, now utterly useless.

I wondered what she would do. I expected her to move on to a more secure, sheltered spot, as her sisters had presumably done. Find a safer place to set up shop, less exposed to the elements. Not a bit of it. She proved to be made of sterner stuff, and by the afternoon had created what might be described as a make-shift web, nowhere near as pretty as its predecessor but perfectly functional.

She then proceeded to use this as a base around which, over the next few days, she constructed a fascinating and elaborate patchwork of cobweb pieces, all linked together with shimmering threads and ultra-fine stitchery. What an accomplishment!

We’ve had several different webs since then – some breathtaking in their construction, others – like today’s – a cleverly-repaired sequence of tatty holes. Each one is a work of dedicated love and concentration, totally deserving of my admiration and respect.

You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Ever heard of Robert the Bruce?

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