• Barbara Copperthwaite

My terrible confession

The autumn changes are well and truly here now. The sunlight is softening to a more mellow yellow, the shadows lengthening even at midday. But, of course, the biggest sign is that the leaves are changing colour and starting to drop, and suddenly the world is full of sumptuous, rich oranges and reds and every shade around them, like flames.

The dropping leaves also change the sound of the countryside. In summer a strong wind’s sound is deadened and absorbed by the rich, ripe leaves in the trees. Now though, even a gentle breeze now rattles the dried leaves, and their shaking noise always makes me think of theatre-goers from a bygone age shaking their fans furiously at something they have been scandalised by.

Scamp loves this new season. There are lots of leaves on the ground for her to chase as they scud along the floor with help from the wind, a fair few twigs on the floor for her to chew, and she loves to sniff the conkers – though their prickly cases make her quickly back off. It seems so early to see fallen conkers, but many are already lying on the ground, smashed open by enthusiastic children excited by the glossy gem hidden inside.

Something else is enjoying this new season too: spiders. This is their breeding season, which is why they are more noticeable at this time of year as they advertise themselves by festooning the outdoors with their webs. And let’s not forget the house spider, which at this time of year terrifies many people by making an appearance. The ones you are most likely to see are males, racing around in search of females, but the bigger ones (which scare people the most) are the females. They spin webs smeared with sex scents so that the males can find them, but we tidy humans dust them away, making life harder for the spiders – which is why they are running around so much!

My terrible confession as a nature-lover is that I’m scared silly of spiders. I couldn’t watch telly the other night because there was one out and about, exploring the walls, the floor, then back up the walls again… It used to be a complete phobia, but by learning about these fabulous hunters, whose design hasn’t changed in millennia, I have gained a lot of respect for them. Slowly but surely that has dampened down my phobia to mere fear. But even that annoys me. It is ridiculous of me to be afraid, as even the ones in the UK which do bite can’t harm anyone (unless they have some kind of exceptionally rare allergic reaction). The point is though, that despite my fear I would never, ever kill a spider. Despite my heart racing, I will simply stay away from the little creature, give it the space to do its own thing. Please, please do the same.

Oh, and if you want a natural deterrent for spiders, try a bowl of conkers. Apparently they dislike the smell. I do it myself every year – and at the very least, I have something pretty to look at for a few weeks.


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