The other evening, while leaving the library after my writers group meeting, I saw my first Neoscona of the season. She had strung her web between two pine trees next to the parking lot and now hung quietly, beautifully waiting in the center. I was too far away to determine whether she was a crucifera or a domiciliorum, but I doubt I would have been able to get close enough to see in any case as Neoscona are quite shy.
Neoscona are orb weavers, spiders who make beautiful, circular webs. The two species mentioned above are found throughout much of the eastern United States. Both are quite sizeable, 1/2 inch or more as adults, with large, round abdomens and distinctively striped legs. In the fall, females gamble that the risks of placing their webs more visibly will pay off in a greater catch of prey; they do not overwinter and will give their all to egg-laying, a la the eponymous heroine of Charlotte’s Web.
I first encountered Neoscona many years ago when I lived in New England. I was house-sitting and discovered that a huge spider had made her web across one of the bedroom windows. Pretty clever, I thought, as I stayed up quite late at night reading and the light was bound to attract a lot of bugs.
Inspired by a Native American story told me earlier that summer, I dubbed my fellow house-sitter Grandmother Spider and came to think of her as a kind of guardian. When strange noises in the unfamiliar house woke me late at night, I imagined her web as a dream catcher, with Grandmother Spider waiting in it to capture any malevolent thought or intruder.
I was delighted to discover Grandmother Spiders around my own home when I returned from house-sitting and have ever since considered them an omen of blessing and protection. I have watched them build their webs, discovered their hiding places, and marveled to see them take down all but the main anchor lines when it rains, like an old salt furling the sails or a woman taking in her laundry. Their striped legs remind me of brightly striped stockings, which always make me smile, and their appearance is a sure sign that the wheel of the year is turning again to my favorite season, fall.
Seeing that spider in her web the other night, I got into my car with a warm, safe feeling. “Good hunting, Grandmother,” I called to her as I drove away.
Update (22sep10): I found some beautiful photos of my Grandmother Spiders, including the one above, at Cindy Dyer’s blog. She tells a lovely story, complete with pictures, about a Neoscona she observed outside her studio in 2008: “How to frame a spider,” and “Out came the rain and…” Thanks, Cindy, for letting me share your eye for beauty (and your talent with a camera) in my post!