Saturday, October 16, 2010

Season's change

I think the deciding factor in whether someone is an "autumn person" or a "spring person" depends on how much they despise the previous season. Summer here is a horrifying succession of sultry nights and blazing white-hot days. I am an "autumn person." Awesome Husband hails from Chicago and Wisconsin.  Winter is tough in the great Northern Lands. Thus, he is a "spring person." Or he was, anyway. I think 10 Dallas summers may be bringing him around to my point of view.

Dallas autumn drifts in quietly, shy and unassuming. One morning you notice that the dawn air doesn't feel like a poorly wrung-out sponge. That first hit of fall air isn't exactly crisp, but at least it isn't soggy. Don't let that fool you: high temperatures will still dance in the 90s for a while, but at least there's a break when the sun goes down.

You can't really count on the foliage to cue you in to the presence of a new season. Traffic on the big highways can be pretty horrifying, but the slow-downs aren't caused by hordes of tourists with cameras, agape over the brilliant colors, because there aren't any. Most of our trees don't exactly burst into blazes of color. They generally turn a sickly yellowish, then brownish, then some of the leaves drift to the ground, while others hang around looking anemic until a big rain, when they plop soggily into squishy piles. We're at the "green fading to blotchy yellow" phase right now.

The spiders know. Silken bundles of spider eggs are showing up all over. This past summer was overflowing with Argiopes. They were everywhere: in the garden, suspended from the back steps, hanging from the awning of the goat shed, lounging in the fig tree, jostling for position all up and down the fence row. I named the goat-shed spiders Jennifer and Bailey. Jennifer vanished early on, but left behind a neatly sewn bag of eggs. Bailey saw that as a challenge, and managed to produce THREE egg sacs before I discovered her tattered, empty web one morning.

All of that egg-making and web-spinning takes its toll. Usually, I just find the webs as I found Jennifer's, and then Bailey's: torn apart, with the resident queen missing in action. I've always assumed that something wrenched them from their lair, and maybe that's often true. But I've seen firsthand this year that sometimes, they just die.

Argiope, dead and fallen to the ground below her web


  1. Interesting that you had a great year with Argiopes. Glad you did.
    We saw very few this year compared with the past two years when we had lots. Possibly because we had a very harsh winter last year. Hopefully we'll have a 'normal' winter this year and they'll be back in greater numbers. Afraid it might take a few years before things are back to normal though.

  2. I wonder if it's been a great Argiope year because it was a great (?) grasshopper year. Lots of lunch on the hop available out there!

  3. I guess that makes us Ohioans "tweeners" as we not really located in the true north or sultry south, but somewhere in-between. Kinda like belly buttons. Summers can get hot here—hundred-degree days; winters can freeze your nether regions with twenty-plus below zero. Still, it isn't Florida or Minnesota.

    Personally, I guess I like spring slightly more than autumn (we do get all the patchwork bright colors, usually) because I like all the new growth, the notion of life resurrected, the wildflowers and returning birds and the thousand shades of green. (Yup, I'm Irish.) Plus I'm a trout fisherman and springtime is trout time. But fall is truly lovely and the weather is better. I also like winter—snow, ice, howling winds, hunkering by the fireside. What I don't much like is summer—not the heat and the sweating and way it makes me want to spend every day on a hammock in the shade. I'm good for about the first month, after that I grumble and whine and offer up the occasional prayer for a three-day blast of arctic air. I'm decidedly more moose than manatee.

    I've also seen a few dead Argiopes, though none this year. Don't know if you saw it or not but I put up a shot of an Argiope with a grasshopper a few posts back. I'm not a big spider fan, but they're quite striking in coloration.

  4. @Grizz, I get more birds here in the winter than the warmer months, and with the leaves gone, it's much easier to see them.

    I like the "winding down" feeling that comes with fall. Winter is wonderful: cold, grey, damp, drizzly. It's all good.

    I've come to appreciate spring for itself, and not just a harbinger of the summer that's soon to follow. I always view it with a little trepidation, though.

  5. I looked up the orb spiders and asked the district entomologist. Apparently, the mothers fix the egg sacks, then die after they have laid all the eggs. The young hatch in the fall, but overwinter in the egg sack for warmth. In the spring, they emerge and start to grow. It is late summer before they are the large, commanding spiders with their pretty webs we notice. By then, they are almost at the end of their lives.

    I am a native Texan, and a spring person. God allowed man to invent air conditioning for a reason, and I prefer long, sunny days to short, cloudy nights.

  6. It seems a shame that we lose them just as they get large enough to be interesting to us. I get quite attached to the large spiders who build webs around the yard, especially the ones close to the house.

  7. Joy, your description of the sweet, if (shall we say) subtle relief of a North Texas autumn makes me miss Dallas. Still, autumn here in NYC is like a Dallas winter - and I'm loving it.

    Beautiful spider pictures.