When I wrote two columns on spiders last summer, I principally relied on John Crompton's "The Life of the Spider" which I probably bought close to its 1950 publication date (and promptly set aside, taking credit for good intentions).
While learning about spiders, I grew increasingly intrigued by the author and his delightful, if not particularly germane, asides. Reviewing noteworthy passages led to enough words to fill two and a half months' worth of these Musings. I condense, allowing Crompton to speak.
"We have a chapter later on about the enemies of spiders but a much longer chapter could be written about the enemies of naturalists. Heading the list, I think, is the common domestic maid."
"Nowadays a scientist's study is rarely sacred territory. Wives and charwomen with brooms, Hoovers, and tins of polish invade it from time to time, causing havoc and destruction. Scribbled important notes are put with the dust from the carpet into the kitchen fire. Written sheets are put neatly together entailing hours of work to sort them back again."
"It is, with us, a fairly common practice for a lover to give his chosen a box of chocolates nicely wrapped up, and there is a spider that does the same things except his parcel encloses a dead fly. ... Very occasionally he cheats and has been known to hand her a parcel beautifully wrapped but containing either no fly or one from which the juices have already been sucked. A dangerous thing to do. It would be dangerous even for a human wooer. Imagine the feelings of a girl when she opened the box her lover had presented to her and found therein either nothing at all, or chocolates from which the centers had been eaten. It would go hard with the lover."
On motherhood: "Moreover dying, though a good theatrical gesture, is of no assistance to the young themselves. Bees, ants, wasps, and others, instead of dying, feed their infants. Are spiders so far behind? In a way, I must confess they are - though it does not seem to trouble the infants." "Mother love is a strange thing. We marvel at it in our own kind, for a newborn child is not really enticing."
"No one knows the mind of a spider. No one, if it comes to that, ever knows the mind of his fellow. We take it for granted that it works like our own, but we do not know."
"This is where insects are so irritating - their patience is so much greater than ours. They indulge in tableaux that last hours, often days, and when the act comes you are not there."
Telling of early boyhood stories, he read of Molly Cotton-Tail and wanted to rid the world of all her enemies. But then he read of the fox who was stalking a rabbit to take home to his hungry family: "for the first time I was up against the facts of life and was puzzled, and I have been puzzled ever since."
Let me allow Crompton to share his story of a huge Brazilian spider: "I am sure it had a name. Let us call it Horace. Horace, then, arrived at the National History Museum. With that philosophic acceptance of all circumstances good or bad common to spiders Horace soon became at home. Like a Peke he preferred food given to him by hand and would come running and take whatever his attendant had to offer. He was probably six years old when he arrived, and he lived in the Museum, the idol of all who knew him, for another fourteen years." [The war created a fuel shortage and Horace, being a tropical spider, died.] "Actually Horace was a female, but I don't think it matters much."
We conclude: "But do not be led astray by this and think of taking up natural history as a career. There is no money in it - and very few statues. Moreover, a real naturalist never does take up natural history; it is natural history that takes up him."
So now you've met my man and have at least an inkling of how he thinks.
Who is he? Checking the Internet, I could find nothing.
My ultimate discoveries will have to wait until March for the next two columns are date-specific and really can't be moved.
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to email@example.com