The past week began with brutal wind-driven snow showers and has ended with temperatures edging into the high 60sF under blue skies and streaming sun. I suppose it’s like spring everywhere, showing two faces as winter reluctantly cedes to the inevitable warmth and light. And the light! Since the clocks sprang forward a couple of weeks ago I’ve been marveling at how long the days are now, with light past 8:00 p.m. What a change from winter, when the world went dim at 3:30 in the afternoon and I went to school each morning in the dark. And the days will continue to grow longer until late June, until it is freakishly light late at night thanks to this northern latitude. No wonder there are aisles of blackout curtains appearing in the local shops.
The return of the light, and some decently warm temperatures, has me back out plant collecting. As the ground wakes up, more and more plants are showing themselves to me. Today I walked to Blackford Hill and the first thing I saw was an orgy. The warm and shallow water of the pond was teeming with toads. I watched one randy fellow swim from one potential mate to another, slipping up behind each in a fumbling wet embrace that was usually deflected in a kicking swirl of muddy water. He could have taken a lesson from this persistent fellow who rode his indifferent girlfriend all the way down the path in front of me as I sat eating lunch.
The toads aren’t the only creatures with spring fever. The geese were swimmingly paired and the swans sat preening on their nest.
And I’ve got spring fever too. The sunlight is intoxicating, and I have dreams of garden parties, picnic blankets, and park barbeques. The plants are returning, and the gardens are even more a place of wonder and education. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a spring, and so full of joy at the return of the light.
I was vacuming near the laundry room today when I noticed a musty damp smell that I traced to the pocket door opening. I couldn’t figure out what it was until it suddenly hit me. I was smelling…summer crawlspace.
Which made me realize that it is that wonderful time of year when I get to enter the crawlspace and jiggle/threaten the dehumidifier into voiding into the sump pump tank instead of just filling up and turning off until I empty it of collected water. For three summers this dehumidifier has had a checkered past of sometimes behaving properly and draining on its own, and other times it just shuts off when filled with water, its red alert eye blinking in the dark. Meaning it’s not working as it should to help keep the crawlspace dry.
My crawlspace is supposedly conditioned space, which means that its air is maintained by my HVAC system just as the air is in my house. That, and a sump pump, work pretty well to keep things fresh and dry until summer sets in and the rain, heat and humidity gain the upper hand. Thus the supplemental dehumidifier.
I suited up in my usual home maintenance outfit of tall boots, work gloves, and a skirt, and opened the crawlspace door, flashlight in hand. Thanks to some hard labor with my dad, I have a really nice crawlspace entry. Every time I go in there I think of mixing and shoveling 1,000 pounds of concrete in a heat wave. Good times. At least this time I wasn’t chasing an angry black snake!
With my flashlight held out front like a sword, I took a deep breath and plunged across the threshold, wiping spider webs from my face. The crawlspace is deep enough that I don’t have to actually crawl—I can penguin walk most everywhere, ducking under ducts, trying not to touch anything. I made it to the dehumidifier, which as expected was sassing me with its “tank full” light.
I took out its tank and dumped the collected water in the sump pump tank close by. Then I replaced the tank and the dehumidifier started right up. All good. Then I had a flash of insight whilst feeding the drain hose from the dehumidifier into the sump pump tank. I think the reason why it occasionally wasn’t working had to do with the the lower end of the hose not being low enough to create enough drop to drain. It’s a close call, I could tell that much. So I did my best to create the greatest possible distance between the dehumidifier outlet and the end of the drain hose, and sat back to sweep the crawlspace with my flashlight, checking to see that the mouse poison trays were still filled and whatnot.
As the flashlight beam hit the bottom edge of one of my two water heaters, at left in the photo above, I saw an unmistakable dark shape. Growing up in the country you don’t need to see a red triangle to know a black widow. Once you learn it, her shape and inky gloss are unmistakable, and they trigger a dilute version of the feeling you get when surprised by a snake.
Closer, but not too close, inspection revealed that this widow was a mama, and was guarding an egg sack. Great! Because what’s better than one black widow? Hundreds, of course!
Now let me just stop here to say that I know that spiders (and snakes too) are important cogs in the ecological wheel. They have great value, and I was impressed by the boneyard underneath Ms. Widow’s web—made up mostly of desiccated stink bug carcasses. However, I have value too, as do my pets and livestock, and I don’t want poisonous spiders or snakes living in, or even right next to, my house.
So I beat it out of the crawlspace to gather supplies. I grabbed a can of wasp spray, reading on the back that it kills scorpions. I knew scorpions are arachnids, just like spiders, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. Plus it’s one defensive tool that can be applied from a distance, in case the spider should run! Then in the kitchen I grabbed a butter knife, because it was the first thing I could think of that was about the shape and size I judged I’d need to fit in this little crevice.
Outside, the thought crossed my mind that there were other things I’d rather be doing than heading back into a dark crawlspace to go head to head with a venomous spider. But the idea of her living down there and hatching tons of babies was more frightening than that of war, so with the pockets of my skirt stuffed with my weapons of choice, I headed back into the crawlspace.
Ms. Widow didn’t put up much of a fight. Upon being jabbed with the butter knife, she did fall out of her web and attempt to scramble amongst the folds of the black plastic lining the crawlspace. It’s always a heart-quickening moment when an undead, pissed-off poisonous spider makes a break for it, especially when one is squatting in a skirt in a dark crawlspace with nothing but a flashlight beam and a butter knife for defense. But I had anticipated her flight, and was able to act fast to smear her into oblivion.
Then there remained her future progeny. I prized the egg sack out of the widow’s characteristically sticky web, and examined it by flashlight. It was about a half an inch long, shaped like a teardrop, and had a texture and color similar to that of a praying mantis egg case.
When I squashed it, it exuded a surprising amount of liquid and the case itself took on the appearance of a golden raisin. At least no baby black widows poured out, which I was kind of expecting.
And with that done, I decided it was time to stop looking around the crawlspace. So, I scooted out, grateful to see this most pleasant sight waiting for me just outside the door.
Even though he wasn’t in the trenches, sometimes it’s nice to know I am not entirely alone in all the stupid shit I get into around here.
And, silver lining. Turns out this little guy had fallen into the crawlspace pit with no way out:
All because of a strange smell while vacuuming, I was able to pick him up, and send him safely on his way. (And not into Tucker’s maw, as this photo would suggest.)
But not before he peed all over my hand. As toads will do.