Keeper of the Orbs

I wondered how many times I had walked right past her before I noticed the spectacular web and her tiny, but colorful, black and yellow abdomen. She was the smallest female garden orb I had ever laid eyes on. There was no telling how many trips I made in a day, up and down the front steps and out into the yard but, finally one day, I found her, already set up in her autumn digs. If she had egg sacks anywhere nearby, they were cleverly hidden. It was truly a clever spot that she had chosen as her snare for insects, out in the open, yet creatively camouflaged in the flower bed alongside the walkway. The web was strung from the guttering on the house to a sturdy rose bush, and then anchored below in a tuft of Shasta daisies and a blue Salvia plant. Even in the area of the web where she constructed the heavier zig-zag patterned strands, her body was perfectly hidden in line with the thick, woody stems of the old rose plant. Only a conditioned eye might notice her inconspicuous location.

For the last few weeks I have been careful to work around her, and quite protective of her presence. I guarded the spot from Mr. T and Oscar passing by on their way out to do their business, and from snoopy Emma deer who loves to feast on rose leaves and petals. I met all visitors at the walkway, pointing out my little friend and advising them to keep clear. Even FD got regular reminders about respecting her space.

Each morning, I admired and spoke to her on my way outside to go about the morning chores. This morning was no different. There she was, patiently waiting for some unsuspecting insect to fly into her web of woe. As is usual each morning, Oscar tagged along behind me as I set out towards the chicken pen with a few morning vegetable scraps, but then he took off on a run towards the vegetable garden. No amount of yelling commands at him, or coaxing sweetly, or luring him in by saying the word “snack” or “cheese”, could get Oscar to return to the house. Frustrated and ticked-off, I dropped my scrap bowl and marched after Oscar with a grumpy voice – the voice that indicates there is going to be trouble, but that only served to send him running off in yet another direction. Oscar thought this was a game. I, on the other hand, felt my blood beginning to boil. Then, just like the puppy he is, for no reason at all, he ran straight into the tall mess of flowers and plants in the flower bed while I screamed “NO!! Oscar HERE!”, but he proceeded to bust right through the area where my garden orb friend had her web. I arrived just as Oscar stopped in front of the porch steps. The spider web was in a sticky tangle on top of Oscar’s head. Sensing my upset, Oscar stepped away from me, and there on the walkway was my beautiful friend. Yellow fluid lay in a pool next to her, and her abdomen was deflated. Now she looked smaller than ever. I hoped maybe the fluid was not of importance, but it was. In just a few seconds her legs were curled up into her body and she was limp. My friend was dead.

Oscar performed a reenactment here. The garden orb had her web set up directly behind Oscar’s placement in this photo. Oscar came through the flowerbed from the back side and busted out through the marigolds onto the sidewalk.

Sadly but carefully, I picked her up and folded her body into a soft leaf of Lambs Ear, gently placing her remains in a cluster of blue Salvia leaves high off the ground. Somehow I hated the thought of pesky ants gobbling her up on the ground. As I sat on the front porch steps feeling a bit low, I thought of an elderly lady I knew long ago. She put her farm up for sale after the death of her husband. She could no longer manage the acres and property by herself. As we walked around her yard, she stopped at the back porch where she had five thick strands of string running from stakes at the ground up to the roof. Lush plants grew askew behind the stakes and trumpet vine had taken over the porch rails and porch posts.  All along the strings, huge black and yellow spiders had built webs. Each spider had their own space.  “These are my children”, the woman explained. “Every year, the garden orbs come here to build webs using these strings as anchors. I do not know how they know to come here, but every year I have many children. Whoever buys this place must promise to carry on as keeper of the orbs. I hope to find someone who loves them as much as I do”. At that time in my life, I thought this was crazy, and that no one could love a big, scary spider. I was just sure she would never find any person who would make such a promise to her, and if they did promise to keep the spiders, I doubted they actually would.

I have since driven past that farmstead on a few occasions. The house and buildings are falling in and the place looks abandoned. Likely, the land was purchased for cattle grazing only and the buildings left to rot. But I think that lady would be happy to know that our conversation that day did mean something to me later in my life. I hung onto her words for more than twenty-six years. I really cannot remember when it all changed for me – when I began to appreciate spiders, but now I have also become a keeper of the orbs. Each year, I have a few of these beautiful, yellow and black “children” around the house, and I do love them.

Now, if only my little black and white child, Oscar, would grow up and learn to listen…

This is a photo from October of 2013. Most of our garden orbs build webs on the south side of the house.

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


33 thoughts on “Keeper of the Orbs

  1. So nicely written! I loved the story of your elderly friend. We have orb weavers in our garden, too. One set up this year in the eggplants. Needless to say, I did not harvest many eggplants! Then Hurricane Harvey sent rain and wind to destroy our garden, and the spider disappeared. But I know they will return next year.

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    1. Thank you, Ellen. I love that the orbs (various species here) come back each year. We usually have three or four around the house, and some along the neighbor’s fence. I also see them on hikes, and am always careful to be on the lookout. I sure don’t want to pull an “Oscar” and destroy someone’s home or even worse, kill them or destroy egg sacs.

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  2. Lori, this is a lovely post. I usually have one of these near the front porch and always have one in the garden. No garden this year so I was enjoying the one at the front porch. I don’t know what happened to mine but I really hope I get one next year!

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    1. Thank you, Lynda. I read somewhere that birds often have a lunch of the orbs. I suppose that is why they cleverly camouflage their webs in greenery. We generally lose our orbs with the first frost, but that’s still a few weeks off probably. They are a stunning spider, and I feel a bit privileged when they choose to put up digs around the house.

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  3. Lori, your style of weaving words about the little spider and, I had not intended a pun, is marvelous, interesting and entertaining. I was excited to read about the little orb but after a few sentences I had a strong feeling that what you had worked so hard to protect was going to meet its demise. The yellow and black ones are quite beneficial and they fit into the grand scheme of things to make a balanced environment or eco-system. I suppose it depends upon what you want it to be called. I too, strive to keep all the insects and little things around but “stuff happens” as they say and sometimes even out best intentions meets with disaster.

    I let the dogs out for a late run last evening at about 8:30 pm and I saw by the light of the back porch light that one of the dogs had his nose to the ground near the car port. I ran over and began shouting even before I saw what had captured his interest. It was an adult frog and I immediately began yelling no! All the dogs tucked their tails and ran away as I stood guard until the frog had moved to the safety of the butterfly patch. I do love the frogs because they eat lots of insects. I put out shallow pans of water in various places for the frogs and the lizards and the anoles during the summer months.

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    1. Yvonne, you and I are so much alike with the critters. I work to put out extras – both water and food sources for the ground animals, the deer, and the flying species. We have a lot of land turtles, toads and some frogs (during wet times) that I keep water out for, and try to look for when I’m mowing. I cannot tell you the turtles I find along fence lines when I’m mowing. I’m always careful. I saw a snake the other day while mowing… a little rat snake. All of these life forms matter. I rarely complain about sharing the gardens with the birds or whatever critters frequent them. Gosh knows they have to put up with us.

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        1. I really wish it was curriculum in school to reflect more on the kind of footprint we are leaving on our earth and its inhabitants. It is not taught at home, and gosh knows even my generation is horrible about practices that harm our environment. We have to wake up and see the damage we are doing!

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  4. Well, it certainly never would have occurred to me even five years ago that I could find the story of a spider’s death touching. But familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Sometimes it can lead to interest, and even affection, as it clearly has for you. I’ve seen only three or four of those large garden spiders, but I am beginning to notice more spiders around me. This weekend, I found both an orchard orb weaver, with a fantastically day-glo body, and a spiny orb weaver: my current favorite.

    I especially liked the story of the old woman; she clearly was as attached to her spiders as the spiders were attached to her strings. I’ve often heard it said that it’s the little things that count, and her little spiders surely counted for her.

    As for Oscar — well, kids will be kids. But aren’t those experiences awful, where you can see what’s going to happen, and know that you can’t do a single thing about it?

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    1. I have never seen a spiny orb weaver, so I had to Google that one. Linda, you often mention something I’m unaware of and I learn something new! I will be hiking to the river as soon as some of the weeds go down (usually in the fall rains) and will be checking out various species of spider. They are everywhere in the autumn months!

      This older woman was quite firm about what she expected of the buyer. I really admired her pluck and gumption. She spoke in more of a ferociously protective manner about the spiders… but there was a definite love of her “children”.

      Oscar is a mess. I believe he is in his teenage stage, testing everything and listening to no one. He truly drives me crazy most days. I have been taking him in the buggy for short periods while I work, and he’s really very well-behaved on those outings. I know I must be patient with him. He’s still just a puppy. 🙂

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  5. A beautiful story. Our garden in France, which is not really much of a garden, but a neglected tangle of ivy, rose, coral bell and lamb’s ear up against an old stone wall, is also the home to these spiders. Writing spiders, I’ve always called them. They are beautiful. Oscar doesn’t know…

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    1. Aw, thank you! Oscar had no idea and even after, he stayed close by but not too close, not sure why I was upset. I suppose for a moment, he looked quite comical with a sticky web adorning his head. I guess he got rid of that by himself because it was no longer there after I dealt with the spider’s remains. Oscar is a handful these days, but he is house trained now, and he knows a few tricks. He’s going through the teenage stage I think… he listens to no one and seems constantly wound up!

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  6. Oh, Lori, your gentle spirit weaves into this story. I especially enjoyed the excerpt about the elderly woman who had to sell her farm and who lamented the loss of her spiders. I won’t ever view spiders in quite the same way again. Thank you. That is a gift you just gave me.

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    1. Audrey, thank you… and it makes me feel good that you might look at spiders differently. I never liked spiders or snakes much before we moved here, but I now have an appreciation for most things – except maybe the coyotes. I suppose someday something will happen that will change my thoughts about those too. I am glad we don’t have bears and and mountain lions are rarely seen. I do not like the big predators!

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  7. Beautifully written Lori. I’m not quite ‘there’ yet, in feeling spiders are my friends, though of course I know they belong in the grand scheme of things. I’m happy to let them be as long as they don’t invade my space too closely. Last summer we had a massive invasion of golden orb weavers, some as large as my entire hand! There were so many and so huge and so close to my clothesline, I’m afraid I had to call the exterminator. One I could have handled but not several dozen! I still love your piece and could feel the sentiment right along with you. 💕

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    1. Hello Ardys. I know many people are not fond of spiders. It’s so hard to tell a safe spider from a venomous one, not to mention they all look scary! If one sets up housekeeping in a location that doesn’t work well for me, I take the web down with a broom. They almost always find another place nearby that works for both of us. I get spiders in the house this time of year. Again, I try to pick them up gently with a towel or tissue and put them back outdoors! I’m not fond of the large, hand-size spiders like you were talking about! I still try not to kill them, but I sure don’t like the idea of thousands of babies hatching next to my house either!! Ha ha!

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  8. Beautifully written and rings of such deep truths. You did well with this one.
    I know what you mean about Oscar. All summer we’ve run interference for assorted lizards in the yard with Molly who just wants to chase and play. She doesn’t realize the little ones are up to rough paws…she does look so confused if she missteps. We’ve tried to keep all the lizards and spiders safe all summer as they are our pest control army. Webs are so intriguing. But you’ve got some beautiful residents there. Good comes to good. Peaceful kingdom where natural order is preserved.
    (and old farmstead where I knew people that are now falling into ruins make me sad, I try to remember what all they said to me -and wish I’d been more of a listener)

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    1. Poor Molly. It’s instinct and that’s so hard to overcome. If Oscar had seen the spider, he would never have gotten close. He’s a real weenie about insects. He is terrified of grasshoppers! I was not upset with Oscar, he’s a puppy and still learning. He’s going through that rebellious teenage time, and he runs off at a whim. I hope he’ll improve with commands. This time I wished he would have listened.

      Your point about “pest control army” is why I leave everything be here too. Snakes, frogs, toads and all sorts of insects help keep things pleasant around here. I don’t mind the small mammals either – opossums, armadillos, and skunks all do their part too, to maintain control of the ecosystem.

      I do remember so many things about the people I met when I was working with the public. As a young girl, I remember stories of my parents and grandparents about their lives. I am thankful for the influence and information that so many have left with me over the years. I might not have understood at the time, but my own experiences later somehow recall those memories in the archives of my mind… and I often put out to Universe a thank you to that person.

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  9. We had orb weavers around the house every year. One September after the addition was built on the back with its huge picture window we saw that an orb weaver had chosen to build her web in the bottom left hand corner (seen from inside). We all watched her build her webs, wind her prey in silk and she ended up being called Hepzabah. She was there even after the first frost since it was warmer by the window than out in the yard, but it finally got cold enough to kill her and we found her huddled deep in the corner of the window frame with a leaf pulled over her dead. It was a very successful place for her since the flying insects were attracted to the light from inside, but we never had another spider there. It was fascinating being able to observe so closely without disturbing her or disrupting her activities.

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    1. What a lovely story! And weren’t you the lucky ones to have time to observe her so close up without disturbing her at all? What a clever move on her part, to find the perfect location to live out her life. These types of experiences are what really draw me to the miracle of nature. Truly, we are given many opportunities to observe and learn, if only we take the time! Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

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  10. Well, don’t feel bad, it was fate, your story remind me a tale a teacher of mine liked to repeat: Once he saw a lizard walking through the open yard, so in order to protect it, he picked the lizard by the tail and put it on top of a wall, under the shade near a tree, where he thought will be safe, and out of harm from the dogs, and cats in the property.
    To his dismay a cat hidden on the bushes, spot his movements, and jump on to the wall and fetch the lizard!
    He reflected on the irony that trying to help the creature he send it quickly to it’s doom.
    He finally draw a lesson of the whole event, to explain we are merely agents of a Higher Will, regardless of our best intentions.. 🙂

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  11. Oscar! LOL!! What a character!! Reminds me of our little Chucky. He will do EXACTLY the opposite of what he is told 🙂 Very informative post, however. Have learnt so much today 🙂 🙂

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