Amazing Grace: A spider’s story

When newcomers to Hawai’i, my husband, David, and I lived on the slopes of the dormant volcano Hualalai in Kona. We were fortunate to find a little rental house at the end of a dead-end street and adjacent to a woods. It was private and quiet — just our style. We had a large lanai where we ate our meals and which David used as his office, pecking away on his laptop while on university sabbatical.

During a period when David was on the US mainland, a small spider appeared on the lanai and spun a correspondingly small web in one corner. I didn’t pay much attention to her at first. In Hawai’i, you co-exist with all manner of creatures, and the boundary between indoors and out is permeable. As the days went by, she remained and grew, her black and yellow markings distinctive. We were familiar with her kind and knew she and her web could reach good size. When David returned, I introduced him to my spider companion, now firmly ensconced.

One day I had a notion I might touch her — that is, I wanted to touch her and thought she might allow it. Had she communicated this to me? It’s hard to know for certain but, in hindsight, seems likely. I approached her gingerly and slowly extended my index finger toward one of her front legs. She didn’t move. I touched the leg with my fingertip and began to stroke it. She didn’t move at first, then delicately extended the leg out a little farther as if to encourage me. She seemed mesmerized by my touch. I know animals may freeze when afraid or to avoid detection, but this had a very different feeling; it wasn’t paralysis. Over time, I learned she was sometimes receptive to touch and other times not (she’d scurry away to a corner of her web). I found the interaction fascinating — and called my spider sister Grace, as in, and short for, Amazing Grace.

After a while, Grace relocated to the entryway of the lanai. By then she was an expert weaver with an expansive, complex, and productive web. However, the new location made it difficult for us to enter and exit the lanai without disturbing or, worse, destroying the web. Not sure what to do, we discussed the issue one afternoon while standing beside the web.

Walking onto the lanai early the next morning, we discovered to our astonishment that the web had been moved to the other side of the entry, where it was no longer in our way! Yesterday’s web had been deconstructed — not a shred of it remained in the space — and a complete, complex web had been spun in the new location overnight.

Say what you like, but we could only conclude Grace had “heard” and “understood” our discussion and acted on the information. The word “coincidence” is not in our lexicon.

David soon left for the mainland again, and I was again alone with Grace. I’d become accustomed to her presence — by then she’d been in residence for several months — and I continued to communicate with her and, when she’d permit it, touch her.

Then, one morning, web and spider were gone. I looked around; no Grace; not even a body. I thought that, perhaps in a day or two, I might find her elsewhere on the lanai or close by and kept an eye out. But that was  it. I missed her and, through those feelings, realized she had taught me not only about interspecies communication but also about friendship.




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