I do not know exactly what day I first noticed the huge, beautiful, scary spider in her huge, beautiful, scary web in the frame of the door I use to go in and out of my home. Maybe it was a day or two before I decided to take a photograph or two of her and post it on Facebook, asking if anyone knew what kind of spider I was now living with.
My first instinct was to kill her, although I do not make a habit of killing spiders. I actually happily co-exist with many species of spiders, unless I think one may harm me, or especially my small animals. Brown Recluse and Black Widows are not my friends. I have recently begun relocating rather than stepping on the wolf spiders who cross my path. Other spiders, I just let them live.
I chose to learn more about the spider in my doorway. Every night she wove a very large, silk web in the doorframe. She hung upside down, suspended in the middle of the web, waiting for unsuspecting moths and other insects to make the last and largest mistake of their short lives.
When I needed to go outside, I had to stoop down and navigate around her so that I did not disturb her or her glorious silk home. I found out that she was an Argiope aurantia spider, aka a yellow garden spider, aka a writing spider, aka many other names depending on what part of the country you are from.
I discovered that she was harmless to me and my animals; not so much to the meals on wings who flew into her trap. I also discovered that she spun her web every night, being a spider of nocturnal inclination, and that she ingested her web every morning and hid nearby until the night time came again.
I was very happy that I had decided to live and let live when I was told that she was a relative of Charlotte, the spider immortalized in the E.B. White children’s book published in 1952. The book was Charlotte’s Web. I had read it, and I had seen the movie. I named my door frame visitor Charlotte after her ancestor.
I saw Charlotte every night. I did not bother her, and she did not bother me. Only once did I forget to duck in time, and I ran into her beautiful web, bringing a lot of it with me into the house and hoping that Charlotte had not come along for the ride as well.
For the past two weeks, I have seen her, appreciated her artistic talent, wondered if I should relocate her to the barn, left her alone, and wondered how long she would grace my home with her presence.
Tonight, I saw her web in the doorway. It was only half-made, and Charlotte was nowhere to be seen. As the evening passed by, I peeked outside my door many times, staring into the partial web and wondered why she had not finished building her home and why I was worrying about a spider.
I finally got on my laptop and searched for reasons a happy spider would begin her web, then just abandon it. Did a predator get her? Had she fallen out of the web and had I stepped on her? Where was Charlotte? Why did I care?
If what I was reading was true, the lifespan of a writing spider is only 12 months. Charlotte had been born during last year’s autumn, and had matured into an adult spider this past summer. She was on track to mate, lay egg sacks in her web, and die with the first frost. Her twelve months were up any day.
I grabbed a flashlight and headed to the door. The web was still there, still half finished. Charlotte was not. I shined my light around the top of the web, and I saw something. I used my camera with the flash on and zoomed in; I took several photographs.
When I examined the photographs moments later, I recognized Charlotte, crumpled up and still. Her lifeless body surrounded two tiny and one larger cocoons of white silk. She had laid her eggs, and then she had woven a protective shelter around her soon-to-be spiderlings. And then she had died. And her last moment in the doorframe, on this earth, was to use her body to protect the life that she left behind.
It has been only two weeks since I took the first photos of Charlotte. Our friendship was short. I cried at the end of Charlotte’s Web — the movie and the book. I cried at the end of Charlotte’s life. When I saw her final resting place, the realization hit me hard: the half-made, gossamer web gently blowing in my doorframe tonight will blow away in a day or two, and Charlotte is gone forever more.