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Deadly dancer

She was there on the steps of the clubhouse, swaying and dancing, and the sun glinted off her glossy black body.

I wouldn’t have stopped, but then my eye caught the flash of red – the hourglass – that image that’s burned into our brains from countless horror movies and science books.

A black widow.  Latrodectus mactans

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The black widow gets her name from the legend that a female will kill the male after mating. One web site I read called this “false.”…. but….

I was thrilled to finally see one. They are nocturnal and like to hide in corners, so to see one in broad daylight in the open was a real opportunity – another reason to carry your camera with you everywhere.

I thought she was wrapping up a beetle, quite a large one. It wasn’t until I was home reviewing my photos that I started to wonder: Was her victim was another black widow spider?? It was the same shiny black, the same leg joints, the same shade of red on its markings…. and yet…. it seemed to have wings…

Have a look:

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According to thebigzoo.com, “Female black widow spiders will usually eat the male after mating. She only has to mate once because she can store the male’s sperm then fertilize her own eggs as she lays them in the sac.”

Among the most famous spiders, the black widow is more venomous than a tarantula. Medical web sites advise bite victims to seek treatment even though the reaction to the bite is not generally fatal.

Emedicine says small children and the elderly are more likely to have a severe reaction; California’s poison site assures us that no one in the US has died from a black widow bite in more than 10 years.

I remember as a child hearing a story about a woman who died from a bite after she disturbed a black widow with her broom. Supposedly the spider crawled right up the broom handle and bit her … probably an urban legend.

As I moved in closer to photograph the black widow on the steps, she started and ran into a hole in the adjoining wall (you can see her crouched small in the photo below). This gave me a chance to get closer to her victim:

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She waited several minutes before cautiously emerging.

She was athletic, graceful… Beautiful, really. I couldn’t even imagine killing her.

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Caught in their webs

All the way down the trail to my tree, I kept running into spider webs. That cotton-candy-stickiness grabbed me from every angle and at every height.

When I got to my tree, I noticed a small web that hung between leaves in the womb.  As I settled in with my camera – suddenly I saw a large drape of a web, at a 45-degree angle, connecting the tree and the rail of the boardwalk in front of it.

Morning sun caught the orbs, and a speck of black danced right in the center. I quickly changed lenses and moved in to have a look.

Whoa…..! What the heck was that!

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At first, I thought it was a spider feasting on a fly. But when I accidentally brushed one spoke of the web, the spider scurried off in the other direction. That was no fly – that was the spider’s body.

My next theory was that something was wrong with this spider. Maybe it was a genetic freak, or malformed by exposure to chemicals.

From underneath, that body looked like it had been burst open in an explosion and then hardened.

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How on earth does it manage to function? I wondered as I watched it work on its web. The body looked so bulky, and those spiked edges seemed like such a handicap.

But it moved as gracefully and worked as diligently as any spider does. Even with a cape of a body that looked like some super hero action figure.

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Closest I could come to an identification was gasteracantha cancriformis, also called a spiny-backed orb weaver; though this spider was not a total match in color and form. [It is NOT a crab spider, which does not weave a web.]

I had to force my attention to the tree itself, and stooped to zoom in on the little spider tucked among the leaves which now protrude a good foot from the Womb:

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Nearby, a chip of red caught my eye. It was a red velvet spider mite, posing delicately at the edge of a leaf.

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And, on the backside of the tree, I found a tiny web laced in the folds of the bark, which seemed to be catching more dirt than food:

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Scurrying around all over the tree – on trunk, branch and leaf – were the Daddy long-legs.

They are EVERYWHERE this year. I don’t remember even seeing them before, but since late spring they have been running across every surface I lay eyes on.

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Don’t know if it was the heavy rains or some other nutrient feeding their reproduction, but there are so many of them this year that I feel like I’m in a science fiction movie.

I looked them up to find the scientic name, and it turns out that these things I’ve been calling spiders are NOT! They are arachnids (having eight legs) but they are not web-weavers. They are sometimes called harvestmen because they gather their food from surfaces; the scientific name is opilionid.

It’s hard not to be creeped out by arachnids of all kinds, but I try to be friends with them.

After all, I read “Charlotte’s Web” 26 times when I was a little girl. How could you not love a spider!

Creation in Progress

A short meditational video I did last year:

on You Tube called Creation in Progress.

And it don’t stop

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About this time last year, I was already overwhelmed. The profusion of color in an Appalachian spring made me dizzy.

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It still does. [See also the cloud tag – click on flowers]

Even the blooms that I know well, such as the Carolina allspice above, seem new when I see them in a different setting, different angle, different stage of blossoming, or at a different time of day…

Plus, I have the delights of my 50mm lens (purchased used from a dear friend) and a reversing ring.  Most of these shots were with that ancient lens.

Like this wild geranium:

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The Catesby’s trilliums have grown in number, though still unusual enough to warrant a close look:

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And then a new drooping trillium that I do not recall ever seeing before – —!

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Be still my foolish heart…. and there is a native azalea:

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And just for that final perfect color contrast, the glory of a crested iris.

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Best of all – I came home and discovered a flurry of them in my own yard, clinging in their rooted web to the side of the steep bank next to the natural water drainage.

Flowers like these make me feel like a little kid. Better than a carnival. Hooray!

In utero part 1

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Inside the Womb, leaves get bigger and stems longer, reaching out further and further to the light.

It must be quite a lush environment in there… a dirt rich with the life of the tree itself. I will have a long wait until the greenery has died a natural, seasonal death and I can really examine the soil of it.

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This is what it looked like on February 21… when this blog was born.

Meanwhile I content myself with close scrutiny of the birthing limbs

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and glimpses of the embryos still curled up, drowsy in the dark interior.

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Leaves alone

It’s hard enough to identify flowers… but this time of year, you see some pretty interesting leaves, too.

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I’m pretty sure this one is a cinquefoil…

I can identify a few, the most obvious ones like rattlesnake plantain. But others, well, I am just not that good yet.

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Ok – it’s a really small fern?

Any naturalists out there want to enlighten us?

img_4956Looks like a sweet potato to me. Mystery leaf #1.

img_4879I know… it’s…. a weed? Mystery leaf #2

img_5141Looks a little rusty, but it’s new. Mystery leaf #3.

In one year

This photo shows the exact spot where new growth started on a young tree:

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See those ridges that travel the circumference of the branch? And then how the bark is clean and smooth after that?

That’s where the new year started, at least in branch terms.

A beech tree grows an average of a foot a year. That puts it in the category of slow-growing…

but as the Arbor Day foundation site Right Tree in the Right Place notes, “Slow growing species typically live longer than fast growing species.” [Don’t miss the great quiz ]

So the dozens of feet of beech tree stretching above my head (and beyond the reach of my camera) is many decades of slow quiet growth.

Slower. Better. Longer.