by Darcy Liddell:
Okay, it's Spider Season back here at the ranch in Les Trois-Moutiers, and I spent a lot of time decorating the kitchen for Halloween with the latest box of spook-filled love from my mom in Washington state. She's a clever one. Buys holiday stuff the day after the holiday, saves it up, and ships it over for us to enjoy the next year. The savvy woman. And we always get excited to open her boxes. Two words . . . candy corn. 'Nuff said.
Meanwhile, spider reality is going down. I love Autumn. Colorful leaves drifting down, woolly sweaters, the first roaring fires in the kitchen. I just don't love the spider situation. I totally don't blame them for wanting to book it to warmer environs, just wish it weren't the house.
I grew up with Black Widows and Brown Recluses in America. Serious critters. There are no venomous spiders in France. They can just be so huge. I don't mind the Daddy Long Leg types. I leave them be in the house to do their work. I even hunkered down on the kitchen floor one day to film a hard-working spider ensnaring her next meal. It was quite impressive. Knit one, pearl two. But the ones that come up out of the pipes in the kitchen sink in the mornings when I'm stumbling for my first cup of coffee. It's them or me, and I'm still standing.
There is a classic story regarding a spider in this family. We refer to it as "The Dyson Incident."
It was a school night, so our daughter was in bed. Her room is next to ours, but the limestone walls of this old farmhouse are two feet thick. So it was odd that we heard a noise coming from her room.
"Tess, stop goofing off. You have school tomorrow," says my husband, using his dad's voice.
"But I was sleeping, papa. A noise woke me up."
Her little voice was so groggy. So I get out of bed to go check on her. Flip on the light and see her in the far corner of her elevated bed staring at the opposite wall, where the Mother of all Spiders was squared off. It was HUGE. I am quietly freaking out but don't want to scare her more than she already is. I am the parent, she, the offspring, remember that, remember that. But see the problem is, the spider was on the side of the bed where the ladder is, so she couldn't get down. And I didn't want any sudden moves to be made to send it scurrying.
"It's ok, Tess. Just stay right where you are. It's fine," I say in a fake sing-songy way. Then, "Honey, we kinda need you in here, um, kinda quickly." Sing-song, sing-song. I hear him grumbling, not wanting to get out of bed. "Um, quickly hon, and get the Dyson."
So he tromps down and back up the stairs, entering the room with vac in hand. He saw the monster right away. I saw his eyes stretch so wide. He had to be the one to climb up the ladder and fight that thing. We both did the fakey relaxed voice. He knew he had one shot to get it or else it would skitter away. Removing the attachment, he precariously climbed up the ladder holding the vac, positioned the tube, and then hit the power suck. AND SPIDER FOUGHT AGAINST THE SUCTION! Monster vs Dyson battle is going down. We couldn't believe it. It's long legs grabbing and pulling around the outside of the tube. The body itself shortly plugged up the mouth of the tube. It was really impressive actually and creepy as hell.
But in the end, the Dyson won out. We tucked her back in bed and reassured her. When we got back into our room, we looked at each other and did a silent skeeved-out shudder dance. We didn't want her to hear how freaked out we actually were. It's crazy to realize that the noise that we all three heard was simply the spider clicketey-clacking its way along the wall.
But there is an arachnid phenomenon that happens here yearly which fascinates me—one I have never seen anywhere else. I look forward to it each fall. It's called Virgin's Threads.
I'll explain how we first discovered them. We were freshly moved into the house and my husband and I decided to take our kid for a walk out on country roads so that she could get a feel for her new surroundings. She was only 4 then, so just a wee thing. We were holding her hands while we looked down at her and all happily chatted. Then suddenly, we noticed all this weird, white, Silly String-looking stuff floating by and attaching to our arms and legs. We stopped walking and started pulling at the substance and said in unison, "What IS this stuff?"
Then we looked around us and saw these globular, super-long strings floating everywhere. They were stuck in trees, wrapped around telephone poles, and the brown fields shimmered with it in the light. It was so eerie, yet exciting in a way. We suddenly had a thought to go ask a neighbor what it could be, so we snatched handfuls from the sky, our clothes, and our hair and ran to our closest neighbor. We tapped on her kitchen window, and she stuck her head out.
"WHAT IS THIS STUFF?" we hollered in excitement as if we had just discovered the 8th wonder of the world.
"Oh. Those are the Virgin's Threads." She said this in the most matter-of-fact, disinterested way as she dried her hands on a dish towel and then closed the window to get back to her chores.
Well so come to find out, at this time of year, millions of teeny, tiny spiders that live in the fields all disperse their silk as a means to travel great distances in the breeze. A single strand is almost impossible to see, but as countless numbers get airborne, they eventually amalgamate in the sky to form these incredibly long, globby, ghostly strands. It's pretty wild to see. I made a short video to try to capture it a bit. Please forgive the dust I had inside my lens.
After a little more investigating, I discovered the reason why the French call them The Virgin's Threads (fils de la Vierge) is because it is said that the Virgin Mary tosses them down from Heaven. The jury is still out on the 'whys.'
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to take down some really cool new spider decorations . . . until next year.