I have a thing for spiders. Yeah, I said it. I’m one of those people. But I have my reasons.
Disclaimer: This post contains images and descriptions of spiders.
My infatuation with spiders developed some years ago when I lived in Oregon. Over time, I have become more open to different kinds of spiders, realizing that most of them are harmless and more terrified of us than we are of them. But my love for them started with one specific spider: The Orb Weaver. Specifically, the Cat-faced Orb Weaver (Araneus gemmoides). And there was one particular spider that started it all, and her name was Fred.
I lived in a duplex in Oregon for 9 years. It had a very small laundry room with a door leading out to the garage. There was a window in this laundry room. Fred found her way into the laundry room at some point and started to build a web. I did not think this was a very good move for Fred. She was still smallish at this point in her life, so I moved her gently, and placed her directly outside the laundry room on the window. She apparently liked this location very much, because she set up shop and lived out the rest of her days there.
Now, I named Fred before I knew Fred was a female. But then obviously I couldn’t change her name, so Fred it stayed. When I met Fred, I was going through a bout of terrible insomnia. I was also a smoker. So I would spend a lot of my nights and early mornings smoking cigarettes, watching Fred tear down her web and build a new one. It was fascinating. If you have never taken the time to watch an orb weaver work… I highly recommend you do. It’s delicate, rhythmic, therapeutic, and the result is really beautiful. It’s weird, I know. I was going through this really shitty time in my life, and I bonded with a spider. Thinking about Fred still makes me want to cry. Obviously, this spider never talked to me, never gave me advice, and probably never knew I even existed. But she gave me something. A connection? The ability to disconnect temporarily from my surroundings? Maybe. I don’t know what it was… but she gave me something I needed to survive that summer and move on with my life. She was my friend.
I watched Fred’s life cycle that summer. I met her as a young women, I saw her mate (and eat her partner!), I watched her get all fat and pregnant, and then when it came time and got cold in the fall, she disappeared to lay her eggs and die. I searched for her body for days, hoping to find my friend, wishing I could bring her inside and revive her. But that’s not how it works. The next year, we had some Fred babies pop up here and there, but no one really stuck around. And a few years later, I moved to a different house.
The story of Fred happened in the summer of 2011. Every Spring, in every house I’ve been in since, I start the search for orb weavers, looking for my new Fred. In 2017, we moved to Montana. Apparently, orb weavers LOVE Montana. The first summer we were here, I was blessed with my first orb weaver above the back door. I watched her lay her babies and the egg sac is still there (sometimes, the babies never hatch sad face). Last year, it was an orb weaver Mecca. I had coffee can babies, 11 mature pregnant females, and an unknown amount of adolescent/teenage Orbies hanging around the perimeter of our house. I was only able to observe one female lay her egg sac (another round of coffee can babies!) and because she stayed with the babies, I thought I could get her body for preservation sake. Generally, they die within a few days after laying their eggs. She had been completely covered in snow. I brought her inside, and she was still alive! Barely, but alive. She didn’t do much, so I put her back out with her babies and continued to check on her. After weeks, she was still alive. It was insane. Like, the sheer determination in this woman. Or her energy reserve just hadn’t run out yet… I don’t know. I don’t know spiders. But then, probably the most traumatic and tragic thing to ever occur in my spider loving life, occurred: My dog ate her. So, that’s the end of that story.
Winter happened. And all my precious Orbies either died or hibernated or whatever they do when winter comes. After the first snow, I found 8 bodies of adolescents that didn’t make it, so I know a lot of them died. That’s why spiders have so many babies… because most of them won’t survive. It’s a hard life out there, ya know? But now it’s almost May, and that’s the time when everything starts coming out again, because, you know, it’s getting warmer.
A few weeks ago, I noticed a spot hanging from the ceiling by the bathroom door in our bedroom. Upon closer inspection, I recognized the shape immediately. Oh blessed day! An adolescent Orbie had survived winter and decided to set up shop in my room. Obvi, I have good spider juju. They know. She apparently did not like that location and bailed, moving to the corner of the room by the window. Obviously a smart move because: 1) that’s very close to where I sleep and 2) the window, duh. She hung out by the closet for a couple of days and I waited for her to make a web. They are more active at night, so one night, during one of Daisy’s middle-of-the-night-pee-excursions, I used my phone’s flashlight to check out the area. You wanna know what I found? Yeah, you do. Another Orbie! This one was much smaller, more babyish. It was chilling on the blinds. Blessed with two! Two orb weavers in my room? By my window? In my corner? Oh my lord… they know.
The next morning, the bigger Orbie had disappeared. I was devastated. I searched for her everywhere. Web trails, evidence, something… anything. I thought perhaps she had gone down the vent and went into the basement. Nope. For days, I searched. Every morning and every night. No sign of her. She left me. Which is understandable… a bedroom probably isn’t a great All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet for bugs. I didn’t blame her. The baby was still too young to understand, but she’d eventually get smart and leave me, too. It was inevitable.
For the next few days, I watched the baby move from the blinds, to the corner, to the wall. I would check on her at night when I let Daisy out, and she would be busy walking little baby butt strings along the top of the wall. You do you, baby spider. She seemed to have found her spot, and the fact that she was making a web confirmed that she was here to stay. Haha, you dumb bitch.
Wednesday April 22, 2020:
I awoke to the most marvelous thing! The bigger Orbie that had vanished from existence last week has reappeared. She is back in her corner by the window and she even grew a little. Getting thick. I don’t know where she went in her little hiatus or what she was doing, but she’s back and everything is right in the world…
Now the baby is gone?!? Okay. I cannot be a spider mother. I cannot handle this kind of stress. I’m officially throwing in the towel. I quit.
Thursday April 23, 2020:
Baby has returned! My life is complete! I have two Orbies in my room, safe and sound. Both have made webs, both are eating (I’m a crazy person and I may be literally finding bugs outside to throw in their webs), and all is right in the world.
I realize how crazy this post sounds to a lot of people. I have two spiders living in my bedroom, literal feet away from my face when I sleep, and I’m finding bugs outside to throw in their webs inside instead of just relocating them OUTSIDE where they probably should be in the first place. Yes, you’re right. And at some point, I will relocate them outside. Because I know they won’t be able to survive in here for an extended period of time. Plus, they’ll need to find a mate and make more babies, and that obviously can’t happen in here. So for now, just let me have my moment and be a spider mother. I already know I’m crazy. But honestly, I don’t care. Because I’m sitting here right now, thinking about my life in this moment, wondering why, again, I have attached myself to some random spiders. I am one of those people… but I really only love orb weavers. I don’t kill spiders, but I won’t just let any spider build its web and exist in my bedroom, 5 feet from my sleeping face.
It’s Fred. It’s always been Fred. She gave me a gift… that unknown gift of survival. During the darkest points of my life, when I need a connection, a focal point, that familiar rhythmic and therapeutic dance… there she is. It’s why I continuously search for replacements, hoping for the day when my therapy will resume. My future is unknown. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I lost my job. My dogs are dying. Things are grey. But here and now, I have two tiny friends. And for the time, I can occasionally disconnect from all the daily unknowns and bullshit, check in with my Orbies, and life seems a little less grey.