"It is quite possible that an animal has spoken to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention." - E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
This summer, a beautiful creature cozied up in our shade garden. Constructing her web daily amongst the irises, beneath an overgrown mess of a pecan tree, she was one of the largest garden spiders I've seen in Dallas. Her web was decorated with what looked like a lightening bolt so I nicknamed her "Ms. Bowie."
As kids growing up in Texas, we were taught to appreciate a good home-garden predator. Mosquitos, ants, flies, the dreaded cockroach, an occasional wasp, and other unsavory six-legged visitors regularly breeched our space. From my grandmother I learned to encourage birds and bats in the yard, to welcome anoles and geckos over the threshold (she gave them names like "George" and "Frank"), to release ladybugs on rosebushes and fruit trees, and to preserve lacey spider webs along with their prolific creators. These types of hunters became more welcome when we discovered coveralled pest-control guys brought about my worst asthma attacks.
I continue to entertain pint-sized stalkers and trappers but I might be the only one who notices front porch geckos snacking on ants and bossy mockingbirds grabbing wasps midair. Dragonflies feasting on gnats over the pool and bats swooping through the yard for mosquitos at sunset are appreciated by our household. I wasn't as welcoming to the chubby opossum that kept our dog Tiger in hysterics but I recently learned of it's moonlit penchant for ticks, snails, and slugs, so it has a home in our garden as long as it would like.
I noticed social media mentions of similar spiders and a quick google search turned up our new resident was a Yellow Garden, or Zigzag, Spider, a.k.a. Argiope Aurantia. She was about two inches long with a body about the size of a small almond. The zigzag within the web - taken down each night and rebuilt by morning - prevents birds from flying through and damaging the trap. She dines on all manner of flying and crawling insects and a gardening friend told me wasps are a favorite meal.
The day I noticed Ms. Bowie was the day after I decided to turn in my resignation at work. It was also an aging mom grief day. Where did the time go? I'm so fortunate to have two incredible daughters but here I was watching one pack her things to move into her own place and the other researching colleges, poised on her senior year in high school. I was wallowing. I know, my privilege is real and I am THANKFUL, but I was forlorn about them growing up. How long ago were the strollers, the dance and gymnastic lessons, even the teen-fueled arguments and the late nights? The baby dolls and stuffed animals packed away so long I've almost forgotten their names and the once familiar toy aisle at Target is a mystery. Who am I without children under my roof?
But here was Ms. Bowie, in our garden, with her unique talents, spinning her designs daily. She was oblivious of her helpfulness - making a dent in those pesky mosquitos and wasps. I found myself worrying about her safety and as summer wore on, I was relieved to see her fresh new web each morning. How many people benefit from creatures like Ms. Bowie and have no idea?
As a student of animal signs, the significance of the spider at this time was not lost on me. They teach a virtual "how to" on living an industrious, inventive life. The spiritual message of weaving together the phases of life - birth to death to rebirth - was significant for a time of personal transition. I could not help but think about Wilbur and Charlotte, identifying heavily with dear Wilbur, concerned about his personal worth as well as his position on the farm. I found myself looking to Ms. Bowie as he looked to Charlotte. What was her guidance for me? When I eventually saw her two lovely egg pouches positioned high on the fence, several feet from her chosen location, I was gob-smacked. I saw in her who I want to be: a creative being utilizing her talents and skills daily, a foresighted hunter making the most of what comes her way, a gracious helper content without acknowledgment, a mother giving her family the loving support they need - yet, with a level of trust and an absence of unhealthy control.
The last day I saw Ms. Bowie, I worried. She had built a smaller, less complex web that morning and did not dart away when I approached. She looked somehow smaller, less fierce. I lay awake that night with motherly concern. Should I bring her inside? Allow her to die quietly without a bird or some other creature catching and eating her? But the next morning, she was gone. I cried. It was not because I am a big a fan of "Charlotte's Web," or because of the affirming messages I found in her presence. It was because I cherished her. As far as she's concerned, she did what she came to do: bring a new generation of her species into being. I wish I could tell her how meaningful her presence was for me. All I can do is be a good Wilbur: own my self-worth and be "some pig!" while keeping watch over her babies. Thank you Ms. Bowie.
"A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all of this trapping and eating of flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that." - E.B. White, Charlotte's Web