Columns

Spiders, beware in this house 2016.07.13

"When it was warm enough, you came with your nighttime show, costing us nothing. We caught you in Mason jars, hoping to create a new kind of bedside lamp."

- from "Society of Fireflies" by Maya Ribault

By DAVID GREEN

I know the taste of fireflies and I'm not sure why. Maybe as children we placed one inside the mouth to surprise a sibling. Maybe there was firefly juice on the fingers from accidentally injuring one.

I hate to admit to intentional injury, but I recall the time of removing a glowing abdomen and placing it on a finger for a ring.   I don't know. Did I really do that? I think it was my sister. Oh, the crimes that were committed on soft summer nights on Cawley Road.

I saw a small spider in the shower the other morning and said to it, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but my wife is going to kill you today. She doesn't allow your kind in the house."

Its appearance made me think it was a juvenile spider, perhaps a young specimen that would grow into a handsome daddy longlegs. It's possible, of course, that it was just another species of spider, grown to maturity.

The variety of spiders even in this small part of the world is so amazing. When I bring in lettuce and other greens for breakfast, occasionally a tiny greenish fellow will walk off a leaf or suddenly appear hanging by a thread from a young stalk of kale. They aren't much bigger than the periods at the end of these sentences. Maybe the size of 16-point type would describe it instead of this 10.2.

I still remember the day I was collecting yarrow stalks on South Manitou Island—summer of 1974, I think—and was surprised by a white spider blending in so well with the yarrow flowers. Wonderful design. I should ask my wife to try to mentally catalogue the various species that she's demolished over the years. Where a person ordinarily might keep a list of the species observed, she could create her Life List of Spider Death.

By the way, I meant to go back to the shower that morning and remove the spider to the back yard. I forgot, and when I showered the next morning, I found it smushed against the shower wall, as predicted, just a matted down collection of twisted legs.

There's a spider in the kitchen window that hangs around the top of the lower pane, so I think it's safe from harm because it would be too much trouble for someone to reach its home. I don't consider it a pet. It's just what happens every summer in our kitchen window. Some years there are two or three; other years the competition is stiffer as they all wait for winged visitors to be attracted to the kitchen light at night.

The day I discovered this year's chief kitchen window spider was the day I noticed a Japanese beetle bouncing around in the air. The spider was busily wrapping the beetle that hung suspended. At lunch I noticed that it had been hoisted up close to the window casing. The next morning I found it lifeless on the window sill.

It didn't have the typical look of a former spider meal. It looked too fresh. I wonder if Japanese beetles taste really bad and it was soon rejected. There's also the possibility that different species handle their trapping and dining in different ways.

The closest I've come to having a pet spider occurred in the summer of 1969 when I was working up north in a big old resort hotel. There were ants on the floor of my room, but there was also a spider who enjoyed their presence.

This was to be a column about insects and arachnids, but I think it would be a great time to give the bird count. So far this year, five sparrows have flown into the Observer office. That's a record by far. Two entered as a pair, one after the other. The remaining three visited alone on separate occasions. It seems as though some meaning should be attached to that report, but I don't know what it is.

I have a Gmail account through our overlords, the people at Google. There's an option to set your current status for other users to see. Happy, bored, tired—that sort of junk. Mine never changes from "Counting paramecium."

OK, enough animal stories, but in case you're wondering, fireflies taste bitter, horribly bitter.