I owed a spider a few meals this summer. He or she had spun a remarkable web between glass and screen of a kitchen window. The web had multiple arches and high spans. It was so finely spun it shimmered in the sunlight. The window was a modern kind, with a pane that drops down for easy cleaning on either side. But dropping it down demolished—heavily twisted—the spider’s web. Having done that, I wiped away every trace, with a muttered apology—I had guests on the way. The next week, another lovely web appeared, twin to the first. I left it alone. I noticed that no food had wandered into the trap, and thought, for the first time in my life, that a spider could be wrong about where to spin his web, and could die from the mistake.
Starve. (In my kitchen? Never.) Although I did think twice about it, I destroyed that web, too, again in favor of guests’ good opinion of my shiny windows.
The third web was a frail, limp job, with a kind of half loop wrapping it off at about three-quarters of the window’s width. And still no food had landed.
I researched spider webs and discovered that the silky material is not of unlimited supply. The quality and quantity of silk depends on the condition of the spider. By destroying two webs, I had lessened his chances of building an adequate one. He, of course, had chosen the window or had at least landed there without my help.. He hid, by the way, behind a five-inch metal strip—capturing him and moving him to a better site wasn’t possible.
One morning I saw part of a wheat colored, nearly transparent corpse, and consulted via email an entomologist friend, Tom Sappington (writes wonderful travelogues). He advised me that if the spider had chanced to meet a lady spider in his brief life, he could count himself lucky and his life well spent. Not to worry.
The spider hadn’t met anything in my window.
Then, another morning, there he was, poised at the edge of his last bridge, ready to pounce. He hadn’t died. He had shed. I was relieved, but now the problem had resurfaced. He was ready to starve a while longer. It was then October, a cold spell. The pet shop in our small town sold crickets, but crickets truly are good luck, and those particular crickets looked big enough to take down a spider. I found a kind of lady bug and managed, with folded paper and a thin net, to lower the bug into the web.
Belatedly, I read about lady bugs. They kill spiders. Either the spider killed the bug or the bug escaped. So: I stunned a fly one day, caught moths on two days, reasoning that their season had ended anyhow. Presumably, the spider did his part while I wasn’t looking—there were little traces of the insects having been taken away.
The temperature has been in single digits and will soon be in minus digits. I don’t know how to warm a spider. A friend asked me if I had read Charlotte’s Web. Of course. But some spiders, my research says, can live three years—given good conditions.