Every year, usually in the early fall, somewhere in our yard I find a large orb weaver, an Aranea Cavatica. This is the time when they’re at their largest and their webs are biggest which makes me a little sad because it means they’re nearing the end of their life; the size and prominence of their webs reflects a special urgency. This year, glowing with light reflected from under the eaves, I found three side by side, all extending from the ground to the same branch nearly six feet up. And I said, “Hello Aranea, Joy, and Nellie,” and if you’ve read Charlotte’s Web you’ll understand that reference, especially if you’ve read it as many times as I have.
The real life spider who inspired E.B. White’s novel by building a web in his barn just above where he was nursing a sick piglet, was also an Aranea Cavatica, which is why, every time I find one, it reminds me of this scene from the book:
“What are you doing up there, Charlotte?”
“Oh, making something,” she said. “Making something, as usual.”
“Is it something for me?” asked Wilbur.
“No,” said Charlotte. “It’s something for me, for a change.”
“Please tell me what it is,” begged Wilbur.
“I’ll tell you in the morning,” she said. “When the first light comes into the sky and the sparrows stir and the cows rattle their chains,when the rooster crows and the stars fade, when early cars whisper along the highway, you look up here and I’ll show you something. I will show you my masterpiece.”
I always think Charlotte sounds a little testy when she tells Wilbur she’s making something for herself, and she should. She’s spent so much of the summer devoted to saving Wilbur’s life she’s almost forgotten her own. A spider’s life is only a fraction of a pig’s. And you know, if you’ve read Charlotte’s Web, that her masterpiece is her egg sac, that in the spring, like so many spiders, she’ll have hundreds of children whom she’ll never see. Three of them stay behind to watch over Wilbur, though he doesn’t need it anymore.
That’s why I usually go through a four-year cycle naming the spiders I find but this year finding three lady Cavaticas all in one place forced me to move things up a little. The one I find next year, if I find only one, will have the same name as the one I found in the fall of 2017. She will be Charlotte.