Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bright Lady in the Garden

I met her by accident.  I was pushing through a tangle of flowers and ornamental plants at the edge of my garden, wondering what needed trimming: perhaps the golden tansy? The tansy is as tall as I am, or almost.  When I looked at it more closely, there she was: the gorgeous lady.

If she had been in the house I might have been afraid of her.  She is rather large, after all, and I was mere inches away from her.  But outside, face to face and eye to, well, eyes (eight of them on her side of the equation, two on mine), it was different story.  I was in awe.  She is black and golden, stunning.  Her home is a lovely, complicated web.  But who is she?  What is her name and her story?

Google knew.  She is Argiope Aurantia.  That's pronounced Are-Guy'-Oh-Pee Oar-An'-Chee-Ah.  Argiope means "Bright Face" and aurantia means "overlaid with gold".  When I speak to her it seems proper to be more formal and to use her genus name.  So I call her Argiope.  

Yes, she's a girl.  The males and females of her species are very different. Females are big and beautiful; my Argiope's body is maybe an inch long, not including her gold striped legs.  Males are skinny, with very long legs. The females make lovely big webs with reinforcing in the center to make it comfy, and they like to hang out there, head down.  Eventually, at summer's end, a male should come along.  He will build a smaller web on the fringes of hers, an arachnid version of a man cave, perhaps.  He courts her by thrumming on her web, making lovely spider music.  Eventually, if she likes him, they mate.

I have started watching to see if she has a boyfriend.  Not yet.  I read more about her and discovered the tragedy to come.  Directly after mating, the male Argiope dies, presumably of ecstasy, leaving the female an expectant single mother.  Eventually, the female lays her eggs.  She wraps them in layer upon layer of spider silk, seeking to protect them from the winter to come and also from other insects, like some wasps, which parasitize the eggs.  Then she dies.

I was devastated.  This wasn't the first I had heard of a spider's short life span.  
As a child I did read "Charlotte's Web", after all.  But this is personal.  I know this spider.  I like her.  The Arachnid Way is hard, very hard.

Or is it?  What would Argiope think of the Mammalian Way?  Would she consider it hard, to live so much longer than one year, to see your children grow, to make friends, but also to see so much hardship and heartbreak? Would she pity me? We are so very different.  I wonder what heaven would be like for her.  Is it an eternal summer afternoon, neither too hot nor too cool, with a very gentle breeze ruffling the tall flowers?  On such an afternoon a well-fed Argiope could dream, comfortable in her woven hammock.  Are we in fact so very different?

No, I haven't trimmed my tansy.

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