Franki and the Jumping Spider. Sort of.

I don’t remember if I read the book before I saw the movie, or vice versa, but Charlotte’s Web by author E.B. White had a big impact on me when I was just a wee lass.

I was raised by, and grew up around, spiderphobes. I don’t remember anyone screaming in terror at the sight of a spider, but killing them on sight was just something you did.

But I never felt good about squishing them. What if one of them was Charlotte’s daughter or cousin or grandson or something? And they always seemed so afraid of us, yet we were the ones doing all the killing.

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Over the years, I stopped killing them “just because” they happened to find their way into my house. Instead, I developed my own “catch and release” plan for the larger spiders and others that clearly belonged outside.

The jumping spider in the picture above, for instance, hung around the living room for a while — literally — before I relocated her outside. She seemed curious about us and descended from her drag line down to about four feet off the floor. Even with my camera within a couple of inches from her, she stayed put, raising her head to look at me now and again, but otherwise just hanging and swinging a bit from the soft breeze blowing in through the open windows.

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For common house spiders — those spindly, delicate creatures the color of sand that try to stay out of your way the best they can — I’ve learned to appreciate their presence and the service they provide. Even though I live in a very rural area and have poorly insulated windows and doors, I don’t have even a small bug problem.

And there’s no need to spread toxic bug killer around when you allow spiders to share your space. Aside from a bit of cleaning up after them and occasional population control measures, we have a live-and-let-live arrangement that works out well for everyone involved.

Outside, I see a lot of tan jumping spiders (the species Platycryptus undatus), like the ones above and below._dsc4595-2

I took the photo above while I was sitting outside on the back deck recently, enjoying the mild weather. The dogs were, of course, outside with me, doing their thing. As I was sitting in one of the chairs and watching Franki and Andie biting each other’s faces for fun, I felt a very light something land on my left arm.

Looking down, I saw it was a jumping spider. I find them to be perky and cute little fellows with their big eyes, furry little bodies and curious personalities.

It jumped onto the neighboring chair when I moved my arm but then turned back around to look at me.

Even though most spiders have eight eyes, it doesn’t mean they all have excellent eyesight. Jumping spiders’ two large, round, forward-facing eyes, however, give them the ability to see incredibly detailed images and judge distances.  It’s believed jumping spiders have the best eyesight of all species of spiders.

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Franki said, “Yes, but I have the most beautiful blue eyes ever.”

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Yes, Franki, you do.

I learned later that female tan jumping spiders have a thick, white “mustache” below their anterior eyes, while the adult males have a bright orange one. So this inquisitive creature appears to be a female.

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As we watched each other, she kept approaching me, waving her pedipalps (or palps) at me — those shorter, fuzzier appendages in the front. Among arachnids — spiders — they function as touching and sensory organs.

Regardless of their purpose, I thought it looked like she was waving hello.

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And regardless of how cute I think they are, people are still afraid of them. But they aren’t interested in biting humans. Jumping spiders prey on flies and other insects who happen to be handy. They don’t spin webs. Instead they actively hunt for prey and pounce or jump to catch their meals.

Jumping spiders also have interesting mating rituals.

Because jumping spiders have excellent vision, they’re able to communicate with each other through movement. Male jumping spiders court their lady loves by waving their limbs and tapping on the ground.

The females lay their eggs in silk cocoons under tree bark or in a variety of crevices and corners. Whether the gal who paid me a visit on the back deck was a momma spider or an older juvenile, I’m not sure.

But she wasn’t the only jumping spider sharing the deck with us that day.

I discovered there were at least three others. One slightly smaller than the female and two others who were very tiny. Hatchlings!

They were tiny and very spry, jumping around like little jumping beans on a small blanket draped over the back of one of the deck chairs.

One of them jumped over to my chair and I was able to get one clear shot. It was so teeny tiny — about as big as a pencil eraser — it was difficult to focus on it as it jumped and crawled around the chair.

But how cute is that?

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I was amused and impressed at all the spiders’ jumping skills. The biggest one jumped up onto my head from a distance of about three feet away as I was finishing up with a few final shots of her.

Maybe she wanted to take a selfie with me. I’m not sure.

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Franki, on the other hand, didn’t seem very impressed.franki-for-blog-2We done yet?

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Okay. … See you around!

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The Dog Days of Autumn

Perfect autumn days are meant to be enjoyed. My favorite spot this time of year — well, pretty much any time of year, but especially in the fall — is about a 30 minute hike from the back gate.

There’s an open area in the middle of the forest where the sun shines down on a small, flat ridge covered with a thick carpet of moss. I think of this lovely place as “Mossy Ridge.”

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The dogs love the cool, soft bed it provides for taking a break from sniffing and roaming. Sammi was getting sleepy when I took the photo at the top of this page. The combination of sun and the moss bed was just so relaxing.

Below, Cookie takes a break but stays alert in case Franki finds something worth getting up for.

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I love this spot for many obvious reasons and am always looking for something interesting to photograph. The sunlight shining through autumn leaves, for instance.

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I liked the look of the plain brown leaf — from a hickory tree, I’m pretty sure — so moved aside all the others and focused only on the hickory leaf.

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Even the browns of autumn can be beautiful if you look at them in a different way.

Meanwhile, Sammi perks up when he hears Franki’s jingle bells tinkling and the crunching of long-dead leaves as she runs toward the clearing.

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I put the bells on Franki’s collar to help give any nearby wildlife an extra alert that the Blue-Eyed Wonder Dog is out and about. The bells also help me keep an ear on her while she’s out roaming.

Franki pretty much has two speeds: fast and stop. And she never stops for long.

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For obvious reasons, I don’t try taking many photos of Franki while we’re out in the woods. She’s just not her most photogenic when she finally plops down for a short rest.

So I go back to my leaf to see what more I can perhaps see … by shifting just a bit to change the angle of the light coming through the leaf …

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Or maybe …

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Then changing the angle on Sammi, just for kicks.

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My handsome boy.

Andie and Cookie, as mismatched bookends, enjoy a shadier spot toward the back of Mossy Ridge.

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Well, it’s time to head back home. We hope to see you around!

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The Dual Quality of Water: What’s On the Surface Can Be Hidden By What’s Below

It was a warm and sunny Saturday so we geared up — collars for the dogs, camera bag for me — and headed out the back gate and up the mountainside.

A few minutes later, as we’re trekking through an area recovering from a timber company harvest a couple of years ago, I paused to let one of the dogs pass me on the narrow trail through the remnants of trees left to rot and, eventually, return to the earth.

Along the trail, a once-stately middle-aged oak tree, now sliced in two, its choicest lower half now parceled out to suit some human purpose, provides me with an obstacle to maneuver around.

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It’s a familiar obstacle; one I’ve made my way around many times. It’s adorned with quite a lot of moss and the type of fungus commonly seen on old and rotting wood. The stuff that grows in little shelves with multi-colored stripes running through them.

Today I noticed the small rounded protuberance, which I often grab hold of to steady myself when stepping around the former tree, is partially filled with rain water.

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Taking a closer look, I notice hints of the blue sky and turning leaves reflected on the water’s surface.

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An even closer look and … oh, there’s Sammi peeking over the side of the tree … Hi, Sammi!

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There’s my boy, Sam. He’s been with me for more than 13 years.

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Squirrel?!?

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Anyway. I see a new photo opportunity with the tiny, shallow pond. The trick is to focus on the reflections on the surface of the water rather than what’s just under the surface, like the pic below:

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The colors of the sky and the leaves are reflected on the water, and it’s kind of an interesting shot, but it’s not what I wanted. But by moving the camera around and fiddling with the focus …

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I was able to capture through the camera what I was seeing on the surface of the water.

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The dual quality of water — what you can see below and what you can see on the surface — is a lovely thing.

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I wouldn’t call them fantastic shots, but their dreamy quality appeal to me. And I always enjoy a challenge and a chance to sharpen my skills. Even if I don’t end up with something I’d put in my portfolio.

Satisfied, it was time to continue the hike. I could hear Andie, Cookie, and Franki not too far up ahead, but my boy Sammi was waiting for me, as usual.

See you around!

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