Golden Orb Weavers

My first encounter with this spectacular web-building spider was approximately ten years ago when I almost walked into a web while wandering around Lake Waccamaw State Park.  I was fascinated by not only the size of the web but the beauty of the spider that had built it.  I was also extremely grateful that I had not walked into it as I am sure it would have resulted in a nightmare inducing scenario.  Despite that I was absolutely delighted when a couple of years ago I found one on my property.  She had built her web high up between two pine trees in the back yard but the web was distinctive enough and the female large enough that I recognized it for what it was.

That female must have been successful in laying an egg case because as I wandered outside today I counted at least ten webs.  The most spectacular was this one

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It is at least four feet in diameter and spanned the distance from the rose arbor to a tree. When I encountered it the sun was hitting it in such a fashion that it literally looked like it had been spun with gold thread.   Some strands were thicker and golder than the other more fragile parts of the web and those looked like golden embroidery thread.

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The female was sitting in the center of the web and her husband (tiny by comparison) was hanging out close by.   I also noticed several other spiders of varying species that appeared to be taking advantage of the vastness of the web and were camping out on various sections obviously hoping to grab any smaller prey that got caught which they could feast upon before the Orb Weaver could get to it.     According to my research there is actually a species of small spider that basically makes its living by camping out on Orb Weaver’s webs and stealing food, although I did not see any indication of that in the web that I was observing as the spiders that were camping out were a diverse bunch.

I hope that my growing colony of Golden Orb Weavers continues to thrive, although I am not sure my husband would agree should he encounter one while doing yard work.  Just to be on the safe side I am going to take him outside and introduce him to the ladies so that he knows what he is looking at and he knows that they are for the most part harmless.   It is after all only polite to introduce him to new visitors.

The best laid plans etc.,

As I mentioned previously my Elderberry Tree has been spectacular this year and was covered with blooms and is now covered with very quickly ripening fruit.  As I also mentioned that I always plan to harvest some berries and make some home-made Elderberry jam but invariably I feel sorry for the birds who love the fruit and end up letting them have all of it.   Well obviously this year it was not to be.  We have had several days of absolutely drenching rain and the rain hitting the fruit and weighing down the branches caused two of the most fruit laden branches to snap spectacularly from the central trunk and crash to the ground.

While I am happy to allow the birds to harvest the fruit I certainly didn’t want the bounty to rot on the ground or simply be eaten by bugs.  My other concern was that with the ripe fruit laying so close to the ground I would be putting the birds feeding on it at risk from my cats, and it didn’t seem to be worth it.  With all those things in mind I decided to harvest the fruit from the two broken branches.

After harvesting and stripping from the stems I have ended up with approximately ten pounds of fruit which I will be turning into jam tomorrow.  I am now grateful that I kept all those glass mason jars and lids that my preferred pasta sauce comes in because I am going to need them.   I am assuming that I am going to be giving some away to friends and neighbors because it is going to yield many jars of jam that I will not be able to eat on my own.

Luckily only a small portion of the Elderberry Tree was affected by the rain so there is more than enough fruit remaining to keep the Mockingbirds and Blue Jays happy, and of course they are going to eat all of the grapes, so there is that.   I am sure their pet name for me is “sucker”.

Cheese

This evening I ate a delightful dinner of Jacob’s Cream Crackers and a really nice aged Brie cheese with some pickled onions and European gherkins. The cheese was particularly nice because it had been marked down by Food Lion as being close to its so called “expiration date”.  I bought it and then kept it for a month or so after that before I even attempted to eat it and as it was it was beautiful, with a really nice nutty flavor with the perfect, how can I put it, moldy aftertaste that I expect from a good Brie.

It always amazes me that people who make their money by selling food know so little about it.   Cheese doesn’t expire, like wine it only gets better with age.   I remember twenty years ago shopping at a specialty foods market and coming across a particularly rare (for the US) four-year old aged cheddar.  I seized upon it and my then boss said to me “why would you want to eat four-year old cheese?”  and I replied “for the same reason you enjoy a 10 year-old Scotch”.   I am sure that there are some regulations in the US that require cheese to have an expiration date but to be honest it is really quite silly.

I can attest to this silliness by recounting the story of my visit to Cheddar Gorge, the birthplace of Cheddar (and it’s bastard, sullen child “American Cheese”).  There they make the cheese the old fashioned way, preparing the cheese and letting it mature in the caves which provide the ideal environment for it to acquire the delicious nutty, sharp taste that is real cheddar.  I sat outside of an ancient pub there and enjoyed the ultimate “Ploughman’s Lunch”,  slices of crusty home made bread, farmhouse butter,  great wedges of cheddar cheese fresh from the caves, pickled onions and a hearty chutney all washed down with a bitter shandy.  The cheddar was the best I have ever eaten, and it has lived in my memory since that time.

To this day as a result of me not being able to buy a really good mature cheddar over here I regularly buy soon-to-be-expiring cheese and “put it up” as one would with a good wine.  Leaving it for a good long while before I actually decide to eat it.   Nor am I adverse to eating moldy cheese (Brie of course is encased in mold), I simply chop off the moldy bits (which usually get fed to the dogs) and consume the rest which has, thanks to the mold, acquired a really nice flavor.

This brings me to American Cheese.  While I do not want to cast dispersions on my adopted country American Cheese should be reported to the trades descriptions council on a regular basis.  American Cheese is known in my home country as “processed cheese” in other words it has been turned into what my dear old Dad called “plastic cheese” (on the other hand cheese spread was known as “invisible cheese”)  we used processed cheese in my house occasionally because it was cheap, dirt cheap, and for good reason.  Processed (or American) cheese is so far divorced from what real cheese actually is that it should be given a category of its own and placed there, perhaps it can hang out with Tofurkey.

I urge all of you to hunt down real cheese.  The sheer delight of placing a cube of Cathedral White Cheddar on one’s tongue and feeling it melt with the heat of the mouth and deliver a myriad of flavors onto the tongue’s unsuspecting taste buds cannot be explained.   I know that there are cheese makers here in the US that can produce spectacular cheese, but unfortunately they are buried under the mountain of “American Cheese” that floods the market.  Discover real cheese.  You owe it to yourself and to your taste buds.