I notice the mothers as my four-year-old son and I harvest garlic. The plants are almost as tall as he is, topped by slender, green leaves that are just beginning to yellow at their tips. I grasp the base of a stalk and heave upward. The earth muffles the pop of breaking roots, and then the bulb emerges, soil clinging to its skin. I toss the plant into the pile behind me and reach for the next.

That’s when I see a brown spider skittering between stalks on long, tapered legs.

“Look,” I tell my son. “A wolf spider.”

He kneels to get a closer view. The spider is large—about the size of a plum, with bristly hairs on her abdomen and legs.

“See that white ball attached to the back of her?” I ask him. “She’s carrying her egg sack.”

Gardens are good places for wolf spiders. And wolf spiders—with their appetites for aphids, beetles, and wasps—are good for gardens.

This mother spider is not the first we see that day. There are others too. They duck into the shade of the mint, disappear into the shadows beneath the broad leaves of burdock. In their spinnerets, they carry sacks spun from silk—the work of motherhood. They are able to use their bodies in this way because wolf spiders are not web weavers. They are hunters who lie in wait and ambush their prey.

Days later, I return to the garden to finish the garlic harvest. I sit on a log at the end of a row of upturned earth. My one-year-old daughter rests in my lap, my left nipple in her mouth. With gloved hands, I trim the roots and peel away the outermost layer of each head of garlic. A stack of clean, white bulbs topped by wilted leaves grows next to me—ready to be braided and hung to dry from the beams of our back porch.

I think of the mothers all around me. Soon, when the time is right, each one will use her mouthparts to puncture the sack she’s been carrying. A hundred or more spiderlings will crawl out and scale her body. For a week, maybe two, she will carry them all. She will wear a mantle of seed-sized spiders, their translucent legs clutching her frame. Eight hundred eyes will watch as she hunts and hides. And in this way, she will teach her young to be garden spiders.

Sometimes, the work is hard. All that climbing and clinging. The tired limbs and aching joints. Rarely getting through a meal without having my lap occupied by at least one child. And while a fierce love accompanies this attachment—so does a longing for freedom.

But here, in the garden, I am in good company. And I am glad to have it.

If all of us get our way, then maybe our young will be good company to each other. Garden spiders and garden children. Allies. Companions. Kin.


Lucy Bryan

Lucy Bryan is a writer, adventurer, mother, teacher, and seeker. She lives on a wooded ridge above the Tuscarawas River in Coshocton County, Ohio. Her award-winning essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and listed as ‘notable’ in Best American Essays. Her place-based nonfiction has appeared in Earth Island Journal, Terrain.org, The Fourth River, and Quarterly West, among others. Her essay collection, In Between Places: A Memoir in Essays (Homebound Publications, June 2022), won a silver Nautilus Award.


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