In the week and a half that I have lived in Portland, I have met many new friends, a surprising number of whom are smoking hot.
By far, the most distinguished looking among them is a beautiful new pal who lives a mere six feet from where I’m sitting now. I am looking at her as I type this.
I have decided to call her Sylvia, because it sounds dignified in a don’t-screw-with-me kind of way, like a Jewish bubby from Brighton Beach.
On Saturday, I watched one of Sylvia’s tiny cousins build a huge web across my office. It was amazing. I had never watched an entire web being built before, and it’s really something. (A few hours later, RZ, being a magnet for cobwebs, walked through it, destroying my symmetrical new flytrap.) It made me realize how few spiders I saw during the seven-point-five years I lived in Brooklyn. I commented about this on Twitter, and my talented friend Celia, who returned to the West Coast a few years ago, replied: “yeah…now that you mention it, me neither…it was more about roaches and rats!”
I don’t hate roaches and rats (unless they are indoors), and I recognize they are probably essential to the ecosystem — such as it is — in NYC, but it’s nice to be in a place with less verminous biodiversity.
I recognize that some of you may disagree with this (mom), but before you leave a comment to the effect of, “eww,” please remember that I have never called any of your friends, children or pets ugly and gross. And they are all likely far less helpful than Sylvia.
Sylvia is a cat-faced spider (Araneus gemmoides to the science types), a variety found throughout North America. They don’t bite and, most importantly, are super talented at catching and eating annoying insects. I don’t have to worry about an infestation of tiny Sylvias come spring, for the simple reason that her babies will cannibalize her and also each other, leaving only a few offspring to carry on.
Sylvia seems to hang out in her web only during daylight hours. She goes away at dusk and doesn’t return till well after dawn. This was also the case with the cat-faced spiders that lived in my garage growing up. This is the part where you learn that I come by this honestly. Because, yes, my dad has had a long succession of “pet” spiders out there for as long as I can remember. He has been known to catch flies and moths out of the air and toss them into webs. He seems to view this process as equal parts nourishing for the pet spider and entertaining for him: The spider scampers over, and before you can say Araneus gemmoides, the insect is wrapped in silk and having its innards sucked out.
The spiders that lived inside the house tended to be a smaller, blackish-brown variety. He discouraged us from squashing them, which was a real problem for my mom, who suffers from the shrieking variety of arachnophobia. My dad ensured that I didn’t acquire this by convincing me that only people who are afraid of spiders receive spider bites. Apparently spiders can tell which people love them and go out of their way to leave them alone. Being about as gullible as most toddlers, I believed him. And have never, to my knowledge, had a spider bite.
Sylvia lives just outside my office window and spends her days at the very center of her web, which is about twelve feet across. When something flies into it she scuttles off after it and brings it back to her center position. When I first started photographing her, she seemed a little spooked. But after a few rounds of asking her, “Who’s the prettiest spider?” she seemed to warm up to me.
Moving to a new place has been wonderful for many reasons. Two big ones have been new friends and an entirely new scope for taking pictures. In Sylvia, I have found both.