The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

“Walk into my parlor”

Ms. Cantrap repairs damage caused by a clumsy photographer.(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 9/27/2013)

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly; Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy.” (from The Spider and the Fly, by Mary Howitt, 1799-1888)

This has been a bumper-year for spiders. In one corner of the lanai, there is a woven silken bug trap overseen by three very different breeds of tiny arachnids. In another place, suspended among some grass blades, a bowl web has been formed, about six inches deep, with a vase-like narrowed neck and round, closed-in, bottom.

The tiny, and sometimes not so tiny, creatures have always held me enthralled – how they can discover just the place to anchor their trap, and measure so perfectly the spacing between web strands, is the stuff, to humans, of engineering degrees, yet these little creatures just go out and do it.

She picks up a new silken thread and places it just there, a quarter inch from its nearest neighbor on a radial spaced 12 degrees from those at either side. And how does she not stick to the very strands so adhesive to insects not of her family?

I spent several hours recently under the spell of a remarkable creature I called, because it seemed fitting and when I asked she didn’t tell me different, Ms. Cantrap. She had set her parlor near the ceiling of our lanai, near the corner farthest from the door. I wanted to shoot her portrait, but she was camera shy; I’d walk outside, and she’d run and hide.

Finally, as evening approached, I set up the tripod, pre-focused the camera, activated the flash and, with a wireless shutter trigger in hand, waited for her to appear at the center of her creation.

Got her!

Next morning, there was no sign of the web. A sampling of colleagues agreed a spider would not remove her web just because she was done with it, or because some giant with a camera insisted in strobing a flash in the dark. Yet not even a fragment remained that might indicate a passing bird or bat had supped on the now-absent arachnid. (Turns out, there are some spiders that do eat their webs when they’re done with them – subject, maybe, for another essay.)

But in the evening, she returned, and constructed a huge – 18 inches diameter – snare across my back door, pinned to two points at the top of the frame and one at the bottom – the latter being slap in the middle of the door width. That one posed a bit of a problem, since Grady the Golden was accustomed to going in and out through that door, and one trip out to do his business and Ms. Cantrap would have been forced to accomplish a major rebuild.

On one, insufficiently careful pass-through, I snagged a portion of her artwork, and for the next hour watched her careful snip just the right joints and reweave the section into a virtually imperceptible patch that would have been the envy of any body shop worker.

She’s big, as spiders go in this part of my world. Her plain bulbous brown-haired body, legs banded in yellow and black, with a bit of red here and there, and jaws that, if you look too closely, belong in that cave in “Lord of the Rings” in which Frodo nearly met his demise. In me-terms, with her legs splayed out waiting for an errant moth to stumble into the lair, she’d be nearly eight feet long, the center of her trap about 540 feet above ground.

One of the things I so much enjoy about wandering in worlds outside my door is the diversity of life there. Some people called it “nature.” I do, sometimes, out of habit, like saying “America” when we really mean the United States. We are part of nature, and it’s fun and engrossing watching us inhabitants do what each we must.

Though I did have to rather forcefully encourage the lady to build her parlor elsewhere so Grady can use the door to the back yard.


  1. Wonderful! I get amazed at webs that span several feet. How did Ms. Cantrap get from one place to the other? Last year I was visiting the mountains in western North Carolina and saw a web so dense and symmetrical that both my friend and I thought was a cd hanging from a tree limb. Luckily I had my camera in my pocket to capture that amazing sight.

  2. What a nice description – thanks. I never have the patience to watch such things so long.
    Off subject, but I recall the word “lanai” from The Golden Girls. What is this exotic thing? A porch?

    • Sorry for not replying sooner. Time got away from me while I was out of state (was I in your parts? The name seems to match.)

      It’s a back porch, in Hawaii or Miami. Back deck in many more modernly urbanized locales. In my early years growing up in Maine, it was the piazza. I called our then-newly bricked back deck a lanai one day, She Who Must Be Loved loved me, the bricks and the name, and there you are.

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