11 March 2009

Boris the spider

(I did not squash any spiders in the course of this adventure. Just saying.)

Today, very early, cleaning the outdoor furniture, a long and fussy job. The chairs and loveseats all have cushions that had to be retrieved from the shed and washed. Yes, washed. By hand. Although everything is stored in the winter, or is in a sheltered place, the wind and dirt and ash gets in everywhere.

So do the spiders.

Our lot is large compared with what you usually see in Orange County, and it's large compared with some of the neighbors. This is great in many regards, but there is the upkeep, which is significant. Right now, I'm in the process of rehabilitating the landscaping in the back (the less said about that, the better, and no, it won't be ready for Saturday). For some reason, spiders, all shapes, sizes, colors, love our backyard. My arborist surmises it's because we have so many trees (you would not want to pay my tree trimming bill, I tell you), which provide shade, food and shelter. Whatever the case, spiders. Everywhere. So I clean the outdoor furniture frequently and thoroughly, because yes, we do get black widows.

Today, I also took the time to get the fountain ready. The birds are everywhere at the moment, and they like having the water available. We have, in particular, a male Anna's hummingbird who believes the fountain is his, and he frequently bathes there. He will dive bomb me if I pass too close to it when it's running.

Of course, when I started to fill the basin and the tub beneath, everything that's been living in the rocks came running out. The usual suspects: ants, earwigs, and of course, spiders. I turned the fountain on, and suddenly a very small jumping spider emerged from the rocks.

I saw my first jumping spider a few years ago when I harvested a bunch of artichokes and decided to soak them in a bowl of water before bringing them indoors. Earwigs like to hide in the inner leaves and Milton likes to chase earwigs, but invariably ends up with them attached to his nose, and then I have the fussy job of removing them. Not much fun for anyone. On this occasion, I was submerging the third of six artichokes, when suddenly a half dollar-sized black spider came flying out of the water, obviously not pleased with what it saw as my rude attempt to drown it. It turned its bright green, headlamp-sized eyes on me and leaped. I fell over backwards, shrieking, not having ever been so brazenly attacked by a spider before. It fell short of the mark, and eventually, it got tired of terrorizing me, and took off for greener, probably drier, pastures.

As a general rule, I don't squash spiders (black widows excepted and those I always squash) because they are good about eating bad bugs, and it turned out jumping spiders are no exception: they like to eat earwigs, among other things. So an artichoke probably looked like a good place to hang out.

Today's jumping spider was the itty bitty baby cousin of the artichoke spider, not too much larger than a pencil eraser. I watched as it climbed up on a rock, and used its front legs to clean off its head. Its motions were catlike, and it seemed quite irritated. Using its back legs, it cleaned off the remainder of its body in similar fashion. Then it hopped to another rock, and I was astonished to see it walk back up to the fountain and stick its head directly into the flow of the water, almost as if it had decided it was going to walk up the side of the pot. It stood that way for several seconds, head completely submerged in what must have seemed similar to Niagara Falls. Eventually, it thought better of the idea, backed out of the water and cleaned its head with its front legs again. Then it wandered off to do whatever jumping spiders do on a normal basis.

I sat back on my heels for a moment, wondering if I'd just witnessed a spider taking a bath.

Go listen to some music: "Boris the Spider" from the album A Quick One (Happy Jack) by The Who. No, as a matter of fact, I don't like spiders, and just digging up a picture of the green-eyed spider made my skin crawl. I do respect them, though, because they help to keep garden pests down. And my kids love this song. Go figure.

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