Wednesday, June 09, 2010

spiders and the spill

The Spruce-fir moss spider, its tiny two-part body stretching only four millimeters, a little longer than your thumb nail, is disappearing from the Appalachian Mountains. You may wonder how I know this about our dear eight-legged friends. It has to do with dull-eyed college students and Wikipedia and poem writing prompts. Their cousins – the spiders, not the dull-eyed students – who populate my clothesline are much bigger, their numbers apparently flourishing. Rather than comparing them to the length of your thumb nail, the ones that chill in my hood are closer to the width, length and girth of your thumb.

Spiders rule the territory around here. And there are many more of them than us, so I accept that they are just part of the deal. I have nothing against spiders. Sure, I held a small grudge against the black widow that I carried inadvertently to Isaac's preschool on the bottom of his dump truck to co-mingle with a dozen three-, four-and five-year-olds, but other than that, me and the spiders are good. Solid. Some of them, the light green ones that like to hang out on the underside of my kale leaves, for example, I've had quite involved conversations with. Things that go along something like, “Look, dude, either you get these aphids or I will. Now, I don't want to steal your thunder or anything, but step it up! Have you got the appetite it takes to live in my garden or not?”

It's frustrating, trying to help these creatures. Typical morning in my house: “Mommy! There's another one on the wall in the hallway!” I drop what I'm doing for the latest spider rescue. It's a huge black one and fast. I grab Isaac's latest addition and subtraction work from school – the booklet with his name on the cover colored just so, the one he is so proud of – and slap it down in front of the beast as it races for under the computer hutch. I stop it, but not before I crack my head into the corner of the hutch.

Ungrateful bugs always wait until I've almost got them out the door, then they try the daring James Bond escape down their silky threads.

Isaac has always been prone to bites – bug bites of whatever kind. And especially in the winter here when no major flying, biting insects are generally hanging out, when my son gets up in the morning covered in itchy bites, I suspect spiders. I brought this up to our pediatrician, however, and he informed me that there are only a small percentage of spiders that can break the skin of a human. Fine. Facts always get in the way, don't they?

One of my students' (the dull-eyed ones) favorite pieces that we read in the environmental writing class was about spiders (the eight-eyed ones). It was David Quammen's “The Face of a Spider” from Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature. In it, the author debates just how humans are meant to behave toward members of other species. In fact, he brings up the question over and over again in just this way --”How should a human behave toward the members of other living species?” Quammen is faced with 100 black widow hatchlings swarming his desk in Tuscon, Arizona. The essay is humorous and down to earth, and though he is reflective and somewhat remorseful, he ends up killing the itty-bitty babies with a can of Raid.

The question that comes up for me is a little different than Quammen's: When did it happen that we came to believe we were so very much more important than anything else that lives here? The subjugation of the planet to our way of life has proven oh so charming. Birds are covered in oil. Sealife we don't even know the names of are dead. And on and on it goes. I can no longer listen. But it hasn't stopped the weeping. Or the desire to burn my car and never look back.

Unless each of us can think our way through the tiniest, daily, individual encounters with other species and decide what truly we can do for ourselves and our partners in this dance, then we're doomed. But first we'd have to have tiny, daily, individual encounters. I think all the BP officials should be sentenced to a life of gardening.

One more fact about that Spruce-fir moss spider: endangered as it is, it spins a web not to catch prey, but only for shelter.

4 comments:

Kitty said...

and I should say that the picture is, of course, NOT the tiny spruce-fir moss spider, but a tarantula Isaac and I encountered last fall on a hike in Carmel Valley.

bobbie said...

The last sentence of your post is very telling.

Kathiesbirds said...

A very thoughful and informative post. Wish we could make this happen! I usually try to save the spiders and get them outdoors but I too made an exception when I had Black widows in my garage. I thought of letting them stay due to all the good they do, but then I feared that either I would back into one or that My grandson would try to grab one and so I let my husband spray the raid. But, I ususally capture them and let them go. I've been waging war on sugar ants though lately as they invade my hummingbird feeders. I don't like to use chemicals and so I am trying to figure something else out to stop them.

Kitty said...

Try citrus for the ants. They sell some kind of official orange spray stuff, or just try your own with lemon etc. Hopefully you can do it without gumming up the feeders. We have ants too, (mostly harboring the aphids that eat my veggies) and they are relentless.

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