Dolomedes tenebrosus – Return to Spider Island

Summer is looking a tad shabby these days; muted, spent, but still with the impeding lushness of August that makes back country travel a job worthy of a good stout machete and a 3 pound felling axe. Aspen leaves continue to flutter in the slightest breeze as they have all summer telling us of surface winds and storms aloft, but they do so now with a peaked appearance as though the spirit is gone while the body remains; the aged guitar player still plays the songs you want to hear but some of the tone has gone flat and their voice can’t quite reach the high notes anymore. It is a worn out time of year after the frenetic rush of fecundity that occurs in the north where our growing season is short and sweet for both flora and fauna alike.

In my tent tonight enjoying Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in D, a fine local craft beer, and homemade chili with smoked paprika and brie cheese is what, not being a superb arachnologist I take to be a rather robust male fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). While I fear that the civility of the eve is lost on my eight legged partner, it is not enough hubris to warrant an eviction; this neighborly extension of welcome has not been common among its peers over the past two summers who were asked to leave in a not-so-nice way. 

To put the fishing spiders into perspective and to produce some sympathy towards my intolerance of their species, the fishing spiders here in northern Maine are gigantic by my standards. This one is relatively small, a male perhaps with legs that would cover the area the size of a beer can top if fully stretched out, which they always seem to be. I have kicked some out over the last year or two the were pushing the size of the cardboard center of a roll of duct tape. To add to their off putting size, when they run(?) across the walls and down the roof of my tent their legs hitting the tight canvas produces sound, sound like the purr of a cat or like small drops of rain.

If god gave them intimidating size and long legs as an evolutionary boon, god sure didn’t take the time to attach those legs very well. I can speak from the perspective of experience as the mutilator of many unfortunate future amputees that at the first sign of limb impingement the spider will jettison the trapped leg as if it were built from Legos; this whole interaction gives me a deep appreciation for the idiom a ‘life or limb decision’. Scientists tell me that spiders can regrow their legs as of their next molt which is anywhere from a few days to a few weeks down the road, although the new legs often come in smaller and scrawnier and the whole leg losing affair can have an overall effect on the vim and vigor of the spider. Hmm, maybe if I start systematically removing legs of my spiders they will shrink below my apparent size threshold for human/arachnid co-habitation?

This one, or one just like it has been in my tent more or less all summer, occasionally crossing the imaginary border we (I) have verbally marked separating the part of the tent the spiders may inhabit, specifically the corners up in the top, hence forth known as “spider- land” from the areas at or below my head height I see as being solely “human- land.” Like trouble causing bears habituated to garbage dumps or sloppily maintained human campsites who get tagged and recorded as a rabble- rouser, the spiders usually receive a verbal warning and then get shooed back to their spidery corners. If their crimes compile though I am forced to jar, cap and toss the little buggers rather unceremoniously into the brush pile thus eradicating my tent of emboldened and brazen spiders who have lost their inherent fear of man, which is far better treatment than the bears get at that point in the penal system.  

The spider tonight is edging its way down and is now clearly past the spider- land line and in the time it took to write the last paragraph has crept a few more inches towards me. I am generally cool with them sharing my living space, the do eat bugs and when you live in a tent the fewer bugs that are flying in your eyes, ears and drawing blood like a deranged nurse the better. The problem for me is that after living for years in non-Nature proof housing I have acquired the appreciation and desire for a distinct delineation between my little box of humanity and the rest of the natural world and this spider is clearly confronting that notion with its presence. Do I spite it for its subtle teaching style or its smug violation of my man/nature separation attempt? While the walls of my tent are only a fraction of an inch thin, they are thick with meaning, however impermanent or fragile they truly are. I need a thin line between where I live and the pulsing wild waiting to consume me and my possessions. It’ll get me eventually, but for now I like to at least pretend that I am not mere fodder for fungus and feast.

It’s still there. There is something off- putting about being in the presence of an individual that you know is fast as polished steel, but that doesn’t move a spec. The other problem with these large fishing spiders is that they are kinda spastic and unpredictable in movement, especially when herded like a stubborn mule, but a stubborn mule that will at any second jump wildly off the walls of my tent and land ready for world war three. I have to keep looking up as if it were reading over my shoulder. Maybe I’ll try to shoo it back to spider-land. All of this spider preoccupation is not as important as if I were living somewhere like Costa Rica where the spiders are actually worth worrying about, because even though the fishing spiders are capable of biting us they usually don’t and besides, they’d prove to be as harmless as a mouse should they decide to attack. Speaking of mice I am currently enjoying a temporary reprieve from the waves of mice breaking on my tent that  have kept me busy in the killing business. Such is the flow of life, in with one and out with another.


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