Every October, just in time for Halloween, the spiders lay siege to my house.
These are not the charming orb-weavers that E.B. White immortalized. They are not the wispy critters that swing from the ceiling on a single gossamer thread. They are big, dark, and fast. They are wolf spiders.
I would much rather have real wolves at my door--come to think of it, I would love to have wolves at my door. But instead I have these silent, faceless, scuttling beings intent on joining me indoors.
With the first cool nights they congregate by the door between the sun porch and the garage, and strategize. The smaller ones squeeze through the chinks between the door and the jamb. The big ones wait for me to open the door on my way to collect the eggs at night and they rush into where there is light and warmth, and the dogs' water dish, where they refresh themselves.
Last fall the invasion happened one evening when I was alone in the house. It was sudden and Hitchcockian, and my only defensive weapon was a spray bottle of water laced with a few drops of dish detergent that works like a charm on the tiny ants that occasionally visit our kitchen. But the wolf spiders were way bigger and tougher than the ants. They just shook off the water and kept coming.
Next I tried dousing them with organic apple cider vinegar, but ended up getting most of it on my clothes. I finally resorted to gross mechanical means: the fly-swatter and my own feet, clad in sturdy clogs. When my spouse finally arrived he found me pale and disheveled, sipping weakly at a glass of Cointreau. I told him I had killed at least a dozen spiders, and his response was, "But why?"
The horror of that night stayed with me all year. I knew that fall would come again, and with it the wolf spiders.
Then I remembered something from my camel-cricket-fighting days in Maryland. Camel crickets are big, pale, silent beings that haunt people's basements in the southern latitudes and also are obsessed with coming into the house in the fall. They will, if the mood strikes them, jump on you. The only thing to deter them was borax, the white powder that you add to your laundry to make clothes brighter. I would sprinkle it on the basement steps and when the crickets landed on the stuff they would just sort of wither and die.
This fall, as soon as the sumac started to redden, I was ready with a box of 20 Mule Team Borax. I sprinkled it around the edges of the porch floor, and really went crazy in the garage, especially near the door to the house, mounding it until it looked like snow drifts. I don't know exactly what the stuff does to the heavily armored wolf spiders, but it seems to slow them down as they walk through it, which gives me a chance to whack them with the fly swatter.
And whack them I do. Every night when I go to collect the eggs I carry the swatter and manage to bag a couple of spiders. There don't seem to be as many as last year, and very few have gotten into the house. So my borax barricade appears to be helping.
I am aware that my spider-killing mania is at odds with most of the principles that I otherwise hold dear. Spiders, my spouse never tires of reminding me, are beneficial. I should live and let live. "Not when they are the size of an egg and crawl inside my barn boots," I counter, swatter in hand.
All this is surely rooted in childhood. One of my aunts was terrified of spiders, and I must have caught my fear from her. On the other hand, my mother would literally lose her mind if you showed her even a picture of a mouse, and I did not catch musophobia from her. In fact, I actually like field mice, with their big babyish heads and bright little eyes, and if they didn't poop so much and carry noxious viruses I would keep one as a pet, as Beatrix Potter did. None of this makes a shred of sense, I realize.
The annual mouse migration into Vermont basements will probably start tonight, when the first frost is predicted to arrive. The mice come in hordes, much more numerous than wolf spiders, and, not having a cat, we are reduced to killing them ourselves. Or rather, my spouse does it, setting traps every night and feeding the dead to the chickens in the morning. Me, I avert my eyes and wipe away a hypocritical tear.