How doth the busy spider improve home and garden

"You have a spider web here," Lucy said. My 4-year-old friend poked her finger into the narrow tunnel of a wolf spider's den.

"Only one?" I quipped, and steered Lucy toward the barn so she could visit with our goat's kids.

A glance about my porch and house reveals dozens of spider webs. At the edge of a small wood, surrounded by fields, my home shelters more spiders than I want to count. A few strands of spider silk shimmer in an eastern window as dawn nudges away the dark. Cobwebs thread their way between the loft joists and rough-hewn beams that support my timber frame home. At one time I would have shuddered at the thought of even a tiny spider in my house.

My phobia erupted early. As a toddler, I watched a spider scurry across the tray of my highchair. I was trapped and could not escape from those eight hairy legs! When old enough to read, I admired Charlotte, who remained safely within the pages of E.B. White's novel. I was relieved that her children did not come live in my bedroom. But my childhood enthusiasm for gardening shriveled when I realized that spiders and other creepy creatures hid beneath bean leaves. I learned to jump back from their darting shadows, and eventually tossed in my garden tools and retreated to the library.

Now that I am an organic farmer and gardener, I appreciate the web spinners that capture the flies and moths that threaten my cabbages and blueberries. I still pay attention to the position of their webs, but mainly to protect these gatekeepers of my garden. Over the years, I have witnessed the important assistance they offer me.

The yellow and black argiope stretches an orb net decorated with a satin stitch down the middle. The wind ripples through her silky embroidery dangling between the spiky leaves of the day lilies. I skirt around both web and spider while weeding. I respect her territory, and I certainly would want to know if she moved to another location. Encountering her bulbous black body at eye level sends a jolt through me.

I still lift cucumber leaves and vines carefully, watching for wolf spiders. I admire their tenacity in protecting their young as they carry their egg sacs, streaking away from my V-shaped weeder. Throughout the summer, the wolf spiders' funnel-shaped webs lurk in the dark recesses of plants and buildings. Their tightly woven, silken webs catch the heavy dew of August mornings and glisten in the grass. The first chilly nights of September bring the spiders creeping inside, and in the morning I find them lurking in a corner of my smooth enameled sink. Once I watched my biologist friend invert a glass over such an intruder, then slip a piece of paper beneath the glass's rim. He picked up glass, paper, and spider and whisked them outside, where he set the spider free.

This summer, frequent cloudbursts filled my rain gauge. The woods and garden thickenedwith lush foliage. Dense humidity hung in the air and heightened the fragrances of roses and freshly mowed lawn. Yet when I reached to pull grass from between the tall stalks of phlox, a plume of mosquitoes surrounded me. No matter what repellent I donned, a few maverick mosquitoes held their breath and left their marks on my elbows or ankles. Even my corgi shook his head to clear away the cloud of insects that rose from the grass.

"Make way for the spiders, wrens, and bats that rescue us from these pests!" I cried. The swallows danced over my head, gobbling up the whining tormentors. A pair of phoebes nestedin the woodshed and filled their babies' beaks with mosquitoes. Inside the barn, a toad hunkered down in the damp earth beneath the pump and grew fatter on bugs.

A few more cobwebs will not hurt my home, and when frost glitters on the grass, I'll whack my broom into those corners. Meanwhile, I give thanks for those itsy, bitsy spiders that survive the sudden showers. Their lacy lairs snag emerging mosquitoes and sparkle when the clouds clear.

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