Dolores the Doorbell Spider

While I wasn't sufficiently gracious and inviting toward abundance and prosperity, my unconscious has been welcoming spiders into my life. My status proves the premise of all those self-help books. You give your attention to X, and you attract X into your life. You visualize spiders. You get spiders. You visualize lizards. You get lizards. You offer unconditional acceptance to cobwebs, and they take over your condo.

First I considered naming the tiny spider guarding my doorbell "Miss Haversham". After a few days of nodding at each other whenever I unlocked or locked my door, I realized the spider was more of a "Dolores". My fifth grade teacher at Eastridge Elementary was named Dolores. She was steady, calm, creative, artistic, and unassuming. I always think of Mrs. Broz as brown in a leaf compost, enveloping, nurturing, competent, molasses ginger cookie anchoring way.

Dolores would be astounded if a human actually rang my doorbell. She has a quiet location for catching small insects
like an arachnid Maytag repairman.

Dolores might be related to the small spiders making their very disorganized webs all over the holly bushes along the walk to my front door. I don't recall ever having webs in these bushes in ten years of residence.

The little spiders are brown. Each messy web holds a tiny former student who flunked out of architecture college, but did fine in the real world. They opened successful franchises, and are unaware of the true exterior web designer on the other side of the walk .

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Please help name this color

Teal blue. What is it? Please help a confused art teacher who can't name a color!

There's a blue dragonfly taunting me on the patio. A lapis blue dragonfly, and quite pleased with itself. He's way too cool to be named.

The tag on my MOG dress names its color "Pacific". That's not a meaningful color name when I describe my problem to the fabric store clerk. She is very helpful, but her understanding of "teal" is "peacock" to me. It's deja vu all over again, Yogi Berra famously said, although he wasn't altering a full-length gown with a sparkly jacket at the time.

When my great-aunt Emma died in 1974, she left written instructions that she wanted to wear her "teal blue dress" to the open casket funeral. Family members weighed in about "teal" as we searched Em's closets. Nothing fit our collective concept of "teal". Emma was dressed in a dark, vaguely blue dress. I wonder if she has been annoyed ever since at our failure to conform to her color specifications. It would be the pits to lie a-mouldering in the grave in the wrong outfit.

Sorry. That is disrespectful of the deceased. Trouble is, I'm still confused about blue vocabulary approaching a far happier event.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


An odd day for hawks

This hawk flew into the the low branches of the soapberry tree on my neighbor's patio. The photo was taken with the 12x zoom through my glass sliding door, and the hawk was about 25 feet away. Why was it in this unusual place?

Maybe it was hiding out from blue jays. On my slow morning walk by the creek the blue jays and crows were in a noisy uproar. Were protective parental blue jays considering me a threat to their young-uns? Was I about to be mobbed? This is an unpleasant experience. One year jays nested near my front door. Getting into the condo was a gamut.

Suddenly a hawk flew by in the bright sunlight over the water, followed by a half dozen jays. The hawk looked like a military jet flying under the radar.

On the way into Corner Bakery my lunchmate was chatting about troop withdrawal from Iraq. Heat was rippling up from the pavement, and the noon glare was intense. Off the nearest lightpost, a hawk swooped down right over us. I could see its yellow beak and underwing markings. Was it going to carry off my friend's newly-colored hair? She talked on, oblivious, while I gaped at Hawk #2 of the day.

Now, Hawk #3 stared at me through the window. If three hawks is a sign from the Cosmos that I'm supposed to color my hair, I need clarification.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


The very hungry caterpillar

At the end of May I found this young caterpillar devouring my small dill plant. Busy packing for a road trip, I figured the caterpillar could come along and keep me company. So I fixed up a Ragu jar with lots of holes in the lid, and cut what little was left of the dill. The dill and the little caterpillar went into the jar. Overnight, the caterpillar ate nearly all of my dill.

I loaded the caterpillar and jar into the cupholder of the Buick. Before I hit the open road, I hit Albertsons to score more fresh dill for road munchies. Lest you think me totally insane, there's some history.

When we arrived at the University of New Mexico to move the Woolly Mammoth into the dorm in 2005, his roommate had already claimed his half of the room. The roommate was totally organized with a flat monitor computer, espresso machine, and a beta fish in a bowl. Stunned, I asked how he brought the fish to college. In the cupholder, of course.

A couple years later beautiful caterpillars began to eat the dill plant in our school garden. Each day the preschoolers went to the playground to observe the hungry caterpillars. One day we realized the caterpillars were shrinking because they were being eaten alive by fire ants in front of the children's very eyes! The kids didn't end up in therapy, but I was scarred for life.

The Ragu Rider caterpillar was happy eating and listening to the audiobook of Doctorow's Homer and Langley. On arrival, I made larger accomodations for my trip buddy in an old Tupperware juice container. I got more dill at the new HyVee store, and the caterpillar kept eating and eating. Checking in each evening was about the highpoint of the trip. The night before the two of us were to drive back to Texas, the caterpillar was nearly the size of my pinkie, and handsome with yellow and black stripes. I added long sticks in case the caterpillar needed to start a chrysalis. I explained that it would soon be a star in the preschool classroom when we would watch it turn into a butterfly.

Alas, in the morning the caterpillar was no longer star-material, or educational, either. Maybe it didn't want to go back to Texas. Maybe it didn't want to listen to Simon Winchester read his own book, The Man Who Loved China. Maybe it didn't want to watch me cry for fifty miles after I said goodbye to my father. Maybe it was just sick of eating dill.

Dill is a member of the "umbel" carrot family. Its plant has an umbrella structure with seeds at the tips of the radial spokes. I heard about "umbels" on a guided nature hike at the Connemara Conservancy last fall. The brilliance of the structure didn't fully sink in until this week.

When we removed the dead dill plant from the school garden, I brought some stalks home. It was starting to rain, so I just plunked the "umbrellas" down in the dirt. After the rain, the dill seeds had sprouted in a circle. In the wild this would happen wherever the stalks bent down to the ground, spreading ever outward.

I'll be glad if the dill grows tall, as I love cutting it into salads. Happy I will also be if caterpillars mow it to the ground. I'm just wishing for a classroom chrysalis.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Wrens' day on Friday

You'd have thought you were eavesdropping on my mother's bridge club. No one was dealing. No one was the dummy. There were no tallies. Dessert and coffee hadn't been served.

It was the sound and the energy. Little brown birds were hopping about in the underbrush close enough to watch, but too far away to photograph. No doubt they were wrens what with their upturned tails and the white band over their eye. Plus, they shared an infectious joy. They chatted and sang and buzzed. If one had produced a photo album of grandkids, it would have been completely believable.

There were plenty of wrens for one table of bridge. If they got a sub, there would have been two tables.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Clockwise and counter

Watched in awe as this small spider did its morning's work.
Circling from the center, moving outward, it connected the radial threads already hung.

Our hard rain would have ruined yesterday's web if the spider hadn't eaten it already.

I was glad the spider had a mid-morning snack dangling like the proverbial carrot.

Managed to get back into the bushes behind the web for a counter-clockwise look. Managed to get mighty bit by mosquitoes, too.

It's raining hard again. Out by the creek a spider will have to start all over tomorrow morning.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Rockabye reptiles

This is a very tiny green anole trying to settle down for the night. Anole parents have no involvement with their offspring once the eggs are laid. That means no bedtime stories and no lullabies.

While it isn't the tree-top, the wind was blowing, and the cradle was rocking. The leaves in the photo are slightly longer than one inch. The young gecko's body is about the same length, with another couple inches of skinny tail. After testing different positions, the anole probably aligned itself along the center vein and stem of a leaf. That would camouflage it very well.

The bough didn't break, and the little guy got a good night's sleep. I happened to see him climb out of the leaves onto the fence about eight this morning.

While settling the littlest preschoolers for their afternoon naps, I spotted a lizard silhouette moving on the wall. Was I dreaming? No, this lizard was even smaller than the rockabye reptile, with a shorter tail. A Mediterranean gecko had found a gap by the door and squeezed inside. The dark nap room let the nocturnal gecko think one p.m. was time to prowl for insects. An educational opportunity not to be wasted, I caught the gecko in a clear plastic container for the older students to see.

Mediterranean geckoes are very bumpy reptiles with lidless eyes and suction-cup toes. They are so homely they're cute. Plus, they eat insects. Lots of insects. After the older students watched it a little while, they took it outside to release on the other side of the nap room door. It's a good spot with a light nearby to attract insects during normal nocturnal hours.

We are watching two white eggs in the corner of the school garden under some old, soggy leaves. They look like yogurt-covered raisins. According to GeckoWeb, Mediterranean geckos deposit pairs of eggs in this type of location. At my condo complex, geckos live in the weep holes of the exterior brick walls near lights. Whenever I think I should get up and look for some to photograph, it is much easier to roll over and go back to sleep.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


A good week for spiders

Spiders portend good luck according to my dream-guide friend. I've had lots of luck finding and photographing spiders this week. Maybe that's because I read Gerald McDermott's Anansi the Spider to the extended-day children. When Anansi got in a predicament, his six children worked together, each using a special ability, to extricate their father. And, the moon ended up in the sky, which is good!

Spiders' special ability to spin webs probably inspired human inventions of spinning, weaving, knots, and nets. Spiders certainly inspired myths and legends. Every time I spy a dewy web sparkling in the sunlight I feel transported to Aladdin's cave of jewels.

Was Helen Augusta Blanchard, the inventor of the zigzag sewing machine (1873), inspired by spider webs? Alas, there are so many things it would be interesting to learn, and so little time. The zigzag pattern appeared in most of my lucky spider webs this week. The zigzag is called a Stabilimenta, but stabilization is not thought to be its purpose.

Thanks to the macro function on my little Canon camera, the designs on spiders' bodies have been revealed. Each spider seems like a design for a Persian rug or Navajo blanket. The markings are amazingly intricate whether the spider is the size of a pencil lead, or the size of my thumb.

Spider education in my childhood was limited. Nancy Drew's cases with black widow spiders in old attics fueled scary slumber party stories. Camp Fire Girl warnings about brown recluse "fiddle-back" spiders taught me to shake out any shoe that hadn't been worn for awhile and to be very wary of violins. Lazy summer evenings sprawled on the warm concrete driveway with the other neighborhood kids included building obstacles for Daddy-Long-Legs between hopscotch and jacks. We didn't learn anything about the beneficial spiders in nature.

I'm including a photo of the biggest spider I ever saw outside of a "bug zoo". It was among the cattails at the bottom of the Oak Point Preserve pond. Its leg span was the size of my hand. And instead of feeling arachnophobic, I was cheering this Argiope girl's capture of a large grasshopper for her lunch. I've known lots of red-blooded grown-up American males who were mighty scared of spiders. Me, I just get the heebie-jeebies from grasshoppers.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


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