Thursday, August 18, 2011

One Bird, One Cat and An Ancient Clan of Spiders


Some of my readers may have noticed that I post somewhat irregularly. Why, you may wonder, can’t I post the Quote of the Day, say, at 8 AM sharp, every morning? It seems like a simple enough thing to do and would certainly represent a courtesy to readers who must live by a schedule.

I have good intentions, I promise you! This very morning I had plans to finish up the blog I worked on until late last night, and then to let it rise into cyberspace with the dawning sun. I actually hurried through my morning devoirs: feeding the dogs and cats, watering the bees, watering four large segments of garden, vacuuming the house, dusting, arranging a huge burst of glorious wild oats in the big apothecary jar on the marble-topped table and oh! somewhere in there, gulping down some coffee and toast. You, gentle reader, were foremost in my mind, I swear to you.

I was in the act of sweeping the deck, where what amounted to a felt of dog and cat hair had accumulated since yesterday’s ministrations (will these animals never stop shedding?) when I spotted disaster! There on the threshold of the open French door was Panda the cat (think Sylvester), crouching in that posture that only incipient murderers assume, all tense muscles, pinned back ears and an aura dark as swamp water. And within his killer’s clasp, a tiny, helpless bushtit.

If you don’t have bushtits in your area, you have my condolences. They are among the most delightful of birds. Only about four inches long and gray with a brown head, they are somewhat bland, individually. It is their habit of traveling in small bands that delights. They arrive suddenly in the Ponderosa pines around my house, flitting nervously from branch to branch, as they pick at bugs in the pine bark. They are constantly communicating with one another in short little chirps and tsips that are both cheery and bantering. Then, suddenly, one will spot an anomaly in the environment, give a shrill tweet like a very small whistle blowing, and off they go, as quickly as they arrived.

This poor little creature had apparently flown into the house, become entangled in a spider web, and thus become fair game for Panda who, under normal circumstances is a better plumber than a hunter. She was still alive, I discovered, after my shrieked “NO!” frightened off the cat, and her little feet were as bound by spider web as any prisoner’s by shackles. The tensile strength of spider web is said to out-rival steel cable and this little adventure convinced me that this is no joke. I had a devil of a time picking the web off her scaly little feet, where it clung like Velcro.

I could see no blood on her, but her feathers were badly rumpled, with several pulled out altogether. I held her as gently as possible while I smoothed her. Her tiny beak was open as if for a scream and her entire body pulsed pathetically. I lifted one drop of water from the dog’s bowl and dropped it into her open beak. She shuddered, shook and continued pulsating. Three drops later, her eyes lost their look of staring shock and assumed that expression that any wild creature has when looking for an escape route. I offered her her freedom but she was still in no shape to fly.

So I sat on the deck in the shade and held her. I prayed over her. I channeled energy to her. I communed with her wild spirit as best I could, encouraging her to live for another day of carousing with her pals.

Finally, with a blink of her tiny, bright eyes and a shake of her head, she launched herself from my cupped palm and flew. Since several of her  pinion feathers were missing, it was a bit of a lopsided affair, but it got her over the porch railing. By the time Panda and I had dashed to look over the side, she was gone.

And there is should have ended and blogging should have commenced. However, I made one small deviation up the stairs to my third floor bedroom and there is where my tale turns ugly. I admit that my housekeeping, like my blogging, is somewhat irregular. Combine that with an innate revulsion for killing any creature whatsoever, no matter how small or repellant, and you have—well, you have my bedroom ceiling, which is cabled in webs belonging to an ancient clan of Daddy-longlegs spiders (Holocnemus pluchei).

We keep our unscreened doors and windows open all summer long and we do not subscribe to spraying by pest control companies on general principles, and especially because we cherish our bees. This is roughly equivalent to running a classified ad inviting every flying, crawling, hopping and leaping insect to come to our house to stay--only more effective. Here the Daddy-longlegs and I are in league, forming a symbiotic bond: I do not kill them and they kill most of the rest of the critters that creep or wing through our portals. It's like having my own band of paid assassins.

So you can imagine the state of the webs that net my bedroom ceiling. In little silken hammocks swinging right above our bed are the embalmed bodies of numberless insects, their little legs crumpled, their wings still glistening, as they rock on the gentle breezes. And there are the spiders, which are large by spider standards, some of them measuring three inches, toe tip to toe tip. Rumors that they are venomous are false: they lack fangs or poison glands and must kill their quarry by ensnaring them in what must be among the stickiest of webs.  The spiders and I have this agreement: they can stay right there and lay their eggs and renew their clan through multiple generations and in return, they do not drop on me in the night, nor do the rules allow them to drop any of their game on me, either. Fair is fair.

This morning, all the rules were broken. Clearly the bushtit had flown in the open French doors and become ensnared in the webs, had fought free valiantly, killing spiders in the process and littering our bed with countless bodies  of a variety of departed species of insects, in the process. Her legs bound by web, the bushtit then apparently fell to the coverlet where Panda took over. Amidst the dead insects were numbers of tiny gray feathers and several smears of bird poop. I can forgive this last. I mean, imagine that you were in the grip of something a hundred times your size that was preparing to eat you.  You might lose sphincter control, too.

The upshot of all  this was that I had to strip and remake the bed, wash the bedding and vacuum the room. And consequently sat down to write long after I originally had intended. Someone once remarked to me, “You’re so lucky! I wish I had the time and money to sit down and write, every day!” I stared at her. The what and the what?

“The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men/ Gang aft agley,” Robert Burns reminded us, long ago. He also wrote an apology to a mouse that suffices for mine to the Daddy-longleg clan:

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

And I swear to you, my gentle reader, that, but for a bird, a cat and an ancient clan of spiders, I would have been right on time with my post, this morning!

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