Spring Arrivals (Arachnophobia alert!)

Lantana April 13

As spring accelerates toward summer, everything is growing and blooming and nesting.

Succulent April 28

Live Oak April 17

Sun is the catalyst, speeding life along.

Hoverfly March 15

Ladybird March 16

Spiderlings March 25

Swallowtail April 19

Swallowtail Egg April 28

Swallowtail Caterpillar April 28

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Chickadee April 19

Cardinal April 20

Sometimes a shadow overhead interrupts the yard’s chirrup and flutter.

Eagle April 20

Eagle April 20

But spring resumes when the danger has passed.

Cardinal April 20

Robin April 20

Grackle April 19

Grackle April 19

Some afternoons turn sleepy with increasing heat.

Mallards April 27

Mallards April 27

Rabbit April 16

Rabbit Nest April 25

But evenings are cool and mosquito-free, perfect for exploring.

Rabbit Baby April 28

Perfect for sitting outside with a book, too. I haven’t been doing much writing, but I’ve been reading a lot, working my way through a stack of nonfiction, historical fiction, classic sci-fi, and poetry. Now I want to add a few graphic novels to my shelf. Any suggestions?

Spider Eyes (Arachnophobia Alert!)

Spider Sept 28

This little jumping spider was not eager to have its picture taken.

Spider Sept 28

Also, it was able to keep at least one eye on me, no matter what angle I tried.

Spider Sept 28

Finally, after I stood very still for several minutes, the spider crept out into the open.

Spider Sept 28

For a few moments, as the spider and I engaged in a bit of mutual staring, my arachnophobia subsided to its lowest level yet – a vague too many eyes unease.

Spider Sept 28

Don’t expect me to touch a spider any time soon, or voluntarily walk through a web, but progress has been made.

Spined Micrathena Spider (Arachnophobia Alert!)

Photography is one of my most useful allies against arachnophobia. In the past, this small spider (less than a half-inch in size) would have sent me scrambling indoors in a state of shivering panic. Now I run for my camera.

Spider Aug 13

The Spined Micrathena is a new spider for the yard, even though a site dedicated to Northern Virginia Ecology says, “The Spined Micrathena is one of our most common spiders. If you’ve ever walked through a spider web in the woods, it was very likely a micrathena’s web.”

I didn’t walk through her web, but I very nearly fell through it a few times as I leaned closer and closer with my lens. By the time I found the best angles and camera settings, fascination with the spider’s abdominal spikes had overcome my too-many-legs anxiety.

Spider Aug 13

And after doing a little research, I am forced to admit squeamish gratitude. These spiders feed on flies and mosquitoes, which recently multiplied into bloodthirsty swarms in the yard. I hope our new spider is very, very hungry.

Spider Aug 13

One final note: I can’t claim to be cured of arachnophobia. My first reaction on finding a spider is still horror, and brushing against a web still results in panic. But I’m learning to look at spiders, especially in photos, with more curiosity and less fear.

Turning Colder (Arachnophobia Alert!)

Mantis Sept 30

The yard is getting colder and colder, though it’s not cold enough, yet, to use the word winter. In fact, it’s a stretch to use the word cold.

Finch Oct 2

Maybe brisk is a better word. Except, nothing feels brisk. Instead everything feels sleepy and slow. Spider webs ripple in smoke-tinged drafts, and wasps pause for photographs as if posing.

Spider Sept 30

Unknown Wasp Sept 27

Grubs curl sluggishly when disturbed, and I have to go slow with the mower because fall’s chill has dulled the toads’ reflexes.

Grub Oct 12

Toad Sept 1

Jumping spiders retreat higher and higher into trees, searching for safe crevices in which to spin their thick winter nests.

Spider Oct 2

It happens like this every year, and every year I succumb to a listless bout of melancholy.

Which reminds me of a poem by Kay Middleton…

O, October what have you done?

Spider Wasp (Arachnophobia Alert!)

I was talking on the phone yesterday afternoon, laughing (and cringing) about how awful it feels to walk through a spider web, when I noticed something moving along the fence. It looked like a leaf, caught (of course) in one of the yard’s many spider webs, being blown about by the wind. But it moved too far along the fence to be anything anchored in a web, and it moved far too purposefully.

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

After I hung up the phone and raced to find my camera, I spent nearly an hour watching this little wasp. First she hauled her prey along the middle rail of the fence …

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

… lowered it down one of the posts …

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

… and tugged it over the ground until she found a clump of grass big enough to hide it.

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

Then she crawled under an adjoining clump of grass and started digging, emerging every so often to check her catch. She seemed to be measuring, trying to see if her burrow was big enough yet.

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

Once the burrow was finished, she turned the spider around a few times, wrestled it down through the clump of grass, and presumably buried it in her burrow with one (or more?) of her eggs.

Wasp and Spider Sept 12

The dynamic between these two predators, between the web spinner and its stinging foe, seems particularly cruel to me. Chances are the spider wasn’t dead when the wasp buried it with her egg. Merely paralyzed by her sting.

It’s a story that belongs in a horror movie or a nightmare, not in the yard. Except, it does belong in the yard. It belongs anywhere there are spiders and spider wasps. Perhaps what doesn’t belong are my words. Perhaps there is no place in the yard, at least in the lives of spiders and spider wasps, for words like “cruel” and “nightmare.” But where is the line? Where on the spectrum of consciousness do words begin? More importantly, where does empathy begin?