Of course the barn, where our Jersey cow (or two or three) lived was a busy place. Growing tired of chasing mice out of the feed bin when I wanted to get the grain for the cow, we had acquired a barn cat, and in a fairly short space of time we had quite a crew who showed up regularly at milking time to be given their portion of the wonderful rich Jersey milk. They were entitled to it, I felt, because mice in the feed bin had become a thing of the past, and continued to be conspicuous by their absence as long as we kept a cow. There were other tenants of course, including the flies which initially I tried to control by commercial means. Although I never used poisons I did resort once to a giant sticky flypaper only to discover to my horror that the flypaper had caught a bat hawking for flies too close to its surface. By the time I made the discovery the bat was dead. At that point I turned instead to the grey spiders who liked to build webs in the sunny windows and elsewhere. At first I had tried to tidy them away but after the flypaper episode I recognised them for the helpful citizens they were. It was only as the weather began to turn cold in the fall that their presence became something of a problem.
The End is At Hand -Spider Webs in the Barn
I opened the door to the barn this morning and strolled in only to be practically decapitated by a guy wire strung across the walkway sometime during the night by a determined spider.
Being tall has its disadvantages, as I've discovered over the years. One of them is that no matter where you position yourself amongst a group of hikers it will be your privilege to discover more spider webs slung across the path than are discovered by anybody else in the group, with the possible exception of the leader. It is a serious error in judgement, if you are tall, to volunteer to be leader on a hike. That way everybody behind you can skip along free of anxiety because you get all the spider webs.
This morning, though, being tall had very little to do with the case. In fact, the only way I could get through the barn these days without being garrotted or otherwise disabled by a spider web is to get down on my hands and knees. Even then I bet there is some spider down at ground level just waiting for me to come by.
I don't mind spiders most of the time. They are diligent citizens doing work I wouldn't care to tackle for wages I shudder to contemplate. I do rather object when, having unintentionally walked into a web, I later find the owner of the web wandering moodily around my shirt collar looking for a suitable site to begin reconstruction. I tend to wonder what exactly she has been doing all that time before I noticed her and what she might have done if I had inadvertently offered her what she might consider an insult of one sort or another.
The spiders who live in our barn are mostly grey and, this time of year, impressively large. Their webs and the associated guy wires are correspondingly heroic. A naturalist could probably tell me what kind these spiders are but I don't know that it would help much. I do know that as summer fades away they begin to get anxious, and an anxious spider is one that wants to make sure that she has a web of the very highest quality.
How do you say "The end of all things is at hand" in spider language? The whisper seems to be shaking the guy wires, though, and every spider, secretly convinced of her personal immortality, is busy extending her area of operations as rapidly as possible - and the strands of a spider's web are apparently stronger by far than the equivalent thickness of high-tensile steel.
I think the scientists are on to something when they compare a piece of spider web to a piece of steel wire. I must remember to park a stout cudgel beside the barn door this evening so I can wave it before me tomorrow morning as I attempt to penetrate the interior. Maybe I can convince somebody that the End really is At Hand. 19 September 1995