Autumn, Houseplants and Science Experiments Gone Bad

September in Hyde Park

September in Hyde Park, by F.T. McKinstry

 
If you wish to live and thrive, Let a spider run alive. ~ Old English nursery rhyme

Fall is upon us here in the North. Although everything is still green and blooming outside, the afternoon shadows are long, the wind has a darker feel, the leaves on the maple trees are changing color, and the nights are cold. I recently brought in my houseplants from their warm, bright—albeit short—summer sojourn. And with them came critters: weird, long-legged creeping things, caterpillars, ants, and the occasional cricket that’ll set up camp in a corner and sing until the cats find it.

Schefflera

 
Spider WebAnd then there are the spiders. Spiders lurk, and they’re undaunted by the change in habitat. The sneaky ones build webs when I’m asleep or not looking. I’ll find a plant or a windowsill blanketed with silk and well-guarded, where the day before, there was nothing.

The shameless spiders carve out their empires with impunity, scrabbling up the shower curtain or dropping down in front of my face somewhere.

But I don’t bother them. It’s bad luck to kill a spider in the house, you know. They bring good fortune. Just remember that, next time you find one in the sink big enough to exsanguinate a small rodent. You can use a napkin to lift it into a cup or a plant, if you think you’re fast enough. Good luck.

I keep finding these slimy, glistening slug trails all over the place, and I never see the perpetrators. Unless they can fly, there is more than one of them. It’s like a B-grade sci-fi flick where an experiment goes terribly wrong. One of these mornings I’m going to come down to a five-foot-tall slug in the kitchen holding a ray gun.

As long as a spider doesn’t sneak into the Petri dish, I’m good.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Orb Weavers’ Empire

The Norns

The Norns

Spiders are fascinating creatures. I have great respect for spiders; aside from the good work they do around here, they have an ancient history of lore and mystique surrounding them. In many cultures, the spider is a powerful totem embodying the forces of creation. In Norse mythology, the spider is associated with the Norns, the spinners of fate. The Old Norse word “norn” also refers generally to weavers and workers of magic.

Garden Orb-Weaver

Garden Orb Weaver

In summer, the eaves around my house are cloaked in spider webs. Some of them are small and humble; others are huge. They hang in layers, and when the sun shines on them they look like galaxies. The big webs are made by a common spider called an orb weaver. A lovely, poetic title.

These creepy critters have grown so big I’ve given them names. In the image below, on the left by the hummingbird feeder, that web is home to Mephistopheles. Next one down is Sauron and the one over the bugbane is Poe (you can kind of see him in the center). It tends to get my attention when one of them drops down to attend to some dastardly business or other.

Orbweavers

Spider Paradise: House eaves, morning sun and gardens beneath.

Balrog lives on the porch. He spins a spectacular web every day in the same spot, right where I need to go to get out to the yard. He lurks up there as if to say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (he finds this amusing) and I either have to brush the web aside or climb the woodpile to get by. I’ve explained to Balrog that building his web elsewhere, like, I don’t know, two feet to the left, would be good. But I’m not going to argue with him. One day I came out and there was a fly struggling in Balrog’s web. I actually waited for him to come down, wrap it up and haul it off before I cleared the way. Didn’t want him to miss out on a meal or anything.

By the mudroom there’s a web over 2 1/2 feet in diameter. I call it Shelob’s Lair. Yeah whatever just…back away slowly. Fumble for the Phial of Galadriel and hope for the best.

Deer FlyThe northwoods in summer is home to the ubiquitous deer fly. In case you’ve never encountered one of these assholes, here’s a description. (Tell me this wasn’t written by a New Englander. Hah!) Deer flies have been clocked keeping up with speeding trains (I’m not kidding), so you won’t get far. But I digress. As I was sitting on the porch one day, a deer fly hit the big web above the rosemary plant, struggled there, and damned if I didn’t cheer that spider on. “Hey, Death Eater! Breakfast! Come and get it, Buddy!”

I was a disturbed child.

Alas, the orb weavers have a short stint, here. Winter is coming and soon all that will be left of their empire are frozen cobwebs in the porch rafters. In honor of this venerable creature, there is a character in my novel Outpost called, simply, Spider. She’s a wisewoman revered by the warriors of her immortal race. Early on, Spider appears to a seer named Arcmael and gives him some cryptic advice. Later, she casts a powerful spell on his behalf–but it’s not what it seems. This causes Arcmael to abandon everything he knows to the point of nearly bringing on the imminent annihilation of the world.

Moral of the story: Never disregard the advice of a spider.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Noble of the Wood

Apple Tree

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~ Welsh Proverb

The apple is a sacred tree with a long, rich history of lore surrounding it. Aside from its fruit and many medicinal uses, it was revered in ancient times as a talisman of love, healing and immortality. In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn gave apples to the gods to keep them immortal. Loki stole them, but had to return them when the gods began to age. In English tradition, one apple was left on each tree after harvest as a gift to the fairies. Apple wood is the traditional choice for magic wands, and a branch laden with buds, flowers and fruit enables the possessor to enter the Otherworld. Considered the food of the dead, apples are associated with Samhain.

Old Apple Tree

Apple trees grow wild in the woods where I live, and are particularly lovely in the spring, when they bloom. They tend to have dark, twisty trunks and low-sweeping, crooked branches, giving them a spooky air. A while back we bought a sturdy little tree and planted it in the back yard. It took years for the first blooms to appear. This year, it’s loaded with flowers. They smell incredible.

My apple tree has stories to tell. The winters are long and rugged up here, and the tree takes a beating, half buried in snow, torn by wind and ice. It split in an ice storm once, right down the middle and partway into the trunk. Heartbroken, I had the desperate idea of pushing it back together and holding it with electrical tape. This actually worked, if you can believe. It healed and now it’s strong as ever.

All kinds of creatures love the apple tree. The birds perch in it, and bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. In fall, I throw apples into the woods for the deer. Then there are my illustrious cats. The tree is easy to climb and perch in, and when the leaves are thick a cat can hide in it. Oh, and let’s not forget the spiders. Big, hobbit-eating spiders. They guard the tree and I’ve learned to keep my wits about me.

Oona in the Apple Tree

If all goes well this summer, we should have apples coming out our ears.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.