Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scary Scenes

or Throwing Down the Gauntlet

No!  Hang on to that gauntlet!  You may want it again, although gardening gloves would probably be safe enough in a pinch.  Probably.
Think of this as one of those movie rating blurbs that tells you why the rating was given—bad language, violence, whatever.   Once I watched something Star Wars-y with my youngest nephew that was rated PG because of "Scary Scenes."  The rating was apt, and I'm afraid it's apt again today.  We are facing real life, PG-rated Scary Scenes, although the following preview has been approved for general audiences:


I've been shifting potted plants around a lot lately.  It shouldn't be a dangerous thing to do, not if I wait for an hour after eating and remember to lift with my legs and not with my back.   And yet, after moving one of the big urns the other day, I found this hanging out underneath its rim:

Oh, good.  A black widow.  (That's really the only Scary Scene.  You can look again now.)  Judging from the coloring, she may still be immature, but that's only mildly comforting.  I could easily have put my hand on her while I was moving the urn.

The thing is, I know better than that.  I may not always wear gloves for actual gardening in actual dirt, but I usually do when messing with the furnishings, for just this reason.  The Widows have lulled me this year.  They've been keeping themselves to themselves, quiet-like, and I've grown careless about taking precautions.

Generally speaking, I don't mind—or at least, violently object to—black widows.  They're useful to have around in a way; their messy, shapeless webs are strong enough to hold grasshoppers and waterbugs.  They're unaggressive unless threatened, and they don't seem to want to see me any more than I want to see them.  And after all, their bite won't actually kill you.  Not usually.

So when they all came out of the woodwork at once this week, I was initially pretty laissez-faire about it.  A black widow on the lip of the urn?  Maybe that urn doesn't need to be moved again after all.  Another one in the keypad box for the garage door opener?  Hey, I can just use the remote.  Living in the patio table's hollow legs?  You know, it's really too hot to enjoy eating outside anyway.  In the pineleaf penstemon next to the patio?  I don't really need another super-close-up macro of a fallen salvia blossom in the penstemon's leaves.

Ever again.  Another black widow in the strawberry pot where the thyme and oregano are growing?  Pfff.  Herbs, schmerbs.  Suddenly I prefer the dried ones in nice, safe, hermetically sealed containers from the store.

Admittedly, the patio has been less a place of peace and sanctuary and more like Mirkwood Forest lately, but that's the price you pay for being smugly virtuous chicken green.  Nonetheless, when I found not one but two black widows, a male and a female, setting up housekeeping under the Adirondack chair, the live-and-let-live, they-have-their-ecological-niche-to-fill, all-creatures-great-and-small-ness went flying.  They had thrown down the gauntlet; they had crossed a cosmic line in the sand, and I just let 'em have it.

Somewhere I read that morality is essentially about keeping your own needs and the needs of others in balance.  This week has certainly tested that balance in the miniature ecosystem of the garden, pushing matters to the tipping point that decides the issue for me or for them.  At least now we know what the tipping point is.

It's the Adirondack chair.  No one messes with the Adirondack chair.

As for all the other black widows waiting their turn to enjoy my favorite seat, this is one of the rare occasions when I wish someone big and heroic would just come along and take care of things while I look on adoringly.  More likely, I will use a spray bottle of insecticidal soap to handle the problem from afar.  I'll be wearing gloves.

Gauntlets would be even better.


  1. After reading about scorpion bites, rattlers and now black widows I'm seriously having second thoughts about moving to Santa Fe.

  2. Our spiders are completely harmless and even so I have limits as to where I will accept them. In general I am extremely tolerant towards spiders as long as they keep a bit of a distance. I suspect for a venomous spider I'd like a bit more of a distance...

  3. I think a lot of respect is called for (as well as the gauntlets)!

  4. haha - I understand that completely, as we have black widows galore. And yes, I usually just leave them alone and avoid those areas. Glad to see, though, that you have a spot that you will defend. Good luck on taking them out!

  5. Oh my. I would not like that at all. I don't mind the spiders we have (no poisonous) here, but we do have the brown recluse I've heard.

    I am spoiled. I don't have to watch out for much outdoors. Except bees. I'm very allergic.

    I love you garden and your pix and words. They take me places I am unable to go on my own.


  6. It's like a jungle out there! And I thought BW's were Australian - shows you how much I know. Stay safe and vigilant but watch out for Shelob (only kidding - I'm fairly sure she never made it out to New Mexico. Fairly sure).


  7. Black widows here in South Africa too. He is careful to wear gloves, and look first, when moving firewood. We tuck them in somewhere over the dotted line - spiders There, us Here.

  8. I have not seen any of these this year, but your post reminds me that I should be more mindful of where my bare hands are.

  9. Baffled, if it's any comfort to you, rattlesnakes and black widows can be found in all of the lower 48 states, so really the only new adventure for you in Santa Fe would be the scorpions. The truly scary ones live in the SW corner of the state, and the other 25 species here aren't dangerous. (My brother-in-law in Roswell has been stung a few times and says they're like a bee sting.) They're not exactly ubiquitous, either—I've never even seen one. Or a rattler. So move without fear! (Black widows, on the other hand, are ubiquitous.)

    Søren, yes, there is a strong, direct correlation between the venomousness of a spider and the amount of distance one requires from it...

    Janet, I promise that I will squash them very respectfully indeed!

    Holley, we all have our lines that cannot be crossed. If I don't reappear by Sunday, though, call out the National Guard...

  10. Elaine, your part of the country sounds wonderfully gentle. Even with bees, at least you know they're not particularly interested in you and would very much rather not sting you.

    One of the best things about the internet is the armchair travel we all get to enjoy.

    Dave, black widows are Australian, too. I think they're just about everywhere except Antarctica and the damper bits of Europe. In a contest between Shelob and a little spritzer full of organic, biodegradable, non-toxic to children and pets, food-safe insecticidal soap, we can pretty well guess who the winner would be. Let's hope you're right that she never made it to NM.

    Diana, you have such well-trained spiders, to observe the dotted line like that! Yes, they always say that firewood is one of black widows' favorite places to take shelter—with your climate you must have them year-round, too. Ours will mostly disappear once we've had a hard frost.

    Michelle, as Mad-Eye Moody would say, “Constant vigilance!”

  11. Sorry Stacy ... can't stop giggling, mainly out of empathy, because I face this dilemma in my garden regularly, me against them (the wildlife). Then someone shouts out to me and I'm brought back to the safer world of humans.