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Spider Season

(illustration by Arthur Rackham)
("Along came a spider..." - illustration by Arthur Rackham)

Well here it is, spider season. The slanting autumn light suddenly reveals webs almost everywhere – highest treetops, spanning the street from stop sign to streetlight (true story!), tucked in the corner of your side-view mirror. And then there are all those spiders that are suddenly inside. Even Seattle’s off-and-on monsoons have not been enough to wash the spiders out.

Why are there suddenly so many of them this time of year? It turns out this is the season when spiders of all kinds are reaching maturity and are looking for mates. After contentedly leading lives semi-hidden from public view (where they can hunt and avoid being hunted discretely) – now is the time when spiders want to find somebody special. They want to see and be seen – not by you, but by each other. All the light glinting off all those webs? Spider discotheque.

So they are not coming inside to get out of the cold, as is commonly believed – another spider myth dispelled by spider expert and enthusiast Rod Crawford at the Burke Museum.

(I have to admit I was saddened by his further statement that removing spiders from your home to the outdoors is not a kindness. I still want to believe that even though it didn’t work out for us, I’m not dooming that spider for all eternity. It could still find happiness somewhere – probably even more happiness than it could with me – right?)

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
(Marmion Walter Scott, Canto VI, XVII)

So maybe dat’s youwr pwoblem too, who knows.
Maybe dat’s da whole pwoblem wif evwytin.
(James W. Hall)

OK Spiders, Old English spi??ra, early Germanic spenwanan (see to spin) – or old-timey, J.R. Tolkieny attercop (a.k.a. poison-head, from which we get coppewebbe) – we celebrate you and your search for love!

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them“

(Walt Whitman, “A Noiseless Patient Spider”)

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See also:

O those eyes turning [illeg.]wishfully!in the street!O silent eyes!

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…But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose’s cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There’s a cool web of language winds us in…

(Robert Graves, “The Cool Web”)

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A Spider sewed at Night
Without a Light
Opon an arc of White ???

If Ruff it was of Dame
Or Shroud of Gnome
Himself himself inform ???

Of Immortality
His strategy
Was Physiognomy ???

(Emily Dickinson, 1163)

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Dr. Thomas Muffet (possibly Moffett or Moufet), an entomologist who died in 1604, wrote The Silkwormes and their flies ‘lively described in verse’. Miss Muffet is said to depict his daughter, Patience. Accreditation is deemed shaky by some, as the first extant version is dated 1805 in Songs for the Nursery, whose 1812 edition read ‘Little Mary Ester sat upon a tester“’ Halliwell’s 1842 collection read ‘Little Miss Mopsey sat in a shopsey…’

Mother Goose scholars agree that ‘Little Miss Muffet’ is not about Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), supposedly frightened (according to some speculators) by John Knox (1505-1572), Scottish religious reformer.

(Mother Goose Society)

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The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.

(E B White, “The Spider’s Web (A Natural History)”)

Most recent spider observation – two spiders, one in the center of its web, another spider carefully creeping up a twig and onto the web’s outer edge. Sensing one another’s presence, the spiders held still. Then the one in the center took its front two legs and vigorously sent a vibration through the thread leading to the other. An invitation to come closer? A wavelength of warning? The spider at the edge retreated slightly, then advanced again – and again the vibrations sent from the center down the line.

Sending vibrations down the line. The poem sends its message. We retreat. We want to know what’s at the center. We move closer.