Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rock On, Charlotte!

I really hope you don’t think spiders are creepy…

...because the anniversary of the first release of Charlotte’s Web got me thinking about spiders, spiderwebs and how much I appreciate spiders here on the farm.

Of all the literary characters I met as a child, I think “Charlotte” was my favorite.  She was intelligent, kindhearted and resourceful. She was also articulate, dedicated and understanding while being tirelessly devoted to her friends and family. It didn’t matter that she was a spider.  She was an awesome character! Garth Williams’ illustrations gave life to all the characters, but “Charlotte” particularly charmed the very young me.

I loved that book.  It was set in a barn, how could I not love it? As a child, I spent as much time as humanly possible in the barn, hanging with the critters. I did have one issue with Charlotte’s Web.  Even as a child, I had a very pragmatic approach to life. There were animals for food and animals for pets…you didn’t mix the two.  …and I really liked bacon! We were taught that farm animals have a job to do, a purpose in life, and that is to provide sustenance for humans.  We were also taught to be thoughtful and careful in our dealings with them, but not to attempt to humanize them…or make them pets.  Apparently, the lesson stuck.  The Boss and I have continued that approach in our animal husbandry here on the hill.  We treat our animals with the greatest of care, and they in turn provide us with the greatest of nourishment.

Great children’s literature and farm ethics aside, Charlotte’s Web may be one of the reasons I still like spiders.  Oh, that pragmatic thing might have some influence as well. But, spiders are just cool!  Such intricate details in those gossamer webs that have strength and durability unmatched by some man-made inventions, they defy description. While I don't like getting caught up in the webs on occasion, the tenacity of spiders must be appreciated.

This is the time of year when spiderwebs are EVERYWHERE!  On the fenceline, in the grass, and yes, even in the HOUSE. I know that makes it look messy, but they are industrious little creatures and I cannot always keep up with them.  A number of years ago, someone pointed out the spiderwebs EVERY time one was noticed. I finally announced that we were operating a spider sanctuary. Nothing else was said.  It may well be that comments are now being made about mama’s sanity…but, that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

A multitude of species of spiders makes its home here on the hill.  I have no idea what most of them are.  There are big ones, little ones, fuzzy ones, rather wispy ones, kinda scary ones,  red, black, brown…and so on. While there are some species that we wish to avoid because of their deadly nature…most of them are innocuous enough and eat a great deal of little nasty bugs.  Those are most welcome!

The garden spider, Argiope aurantiai, is quite common and can grow to an enormous size. Their black and yellow coloration is quite striking and they will eat all sorts of little bugs. They are especially welcome in the hoophouses.  I try not to disturb their webs while I am picking or planting. While I realize Charlotte was a different type entirely, they always make me think of her.

During the summer, I sighted a garden spider trapping and eating a grasshopper.  Grasshoppers are one of the most destructive pests we face…particularly in the hoophouses…so I was more than a little pleased. Not only that…it was a HUGE grasshopper!  ROCK ON, “Charlotte”!

Recently, I noticed a large egg case attached to the wall of the hoophouse. I rather sadly suppose it belongs to “Charlotte-eater-of-giant-grasshoppers”, as I haven’t seen the large garden spider of late, and it IS that time of year. Tucked up close the side of the hoophouse, it will remain undisturbed until the time when “Joy, Aranea, and Nellie” (remember “Charlotte’s” offspring that stayed with “Wilbur”?) and all the other tiny spiders will start the cycle of all natural pest control once again.

Come Spring we will again see the benefit of the spiders here on the hill.   To which I will again say: 

                                Rock on, “Charlotte”, Rock on!

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