The word cobwebs sounds like a word Gertrude Stein could have invented. Inverted it could have been webcobs which could easily be mis-heard as copse. Web copse or web forests sounds spooky and eerily like something that the beings of Middle Earth would encountered beyond the Shire. And we know that spiders are very nasty creatures in Tolkien’s masterful amalgamation of Northern European mythologies. But that is neither here nor there except for Frodo Baggins. That was a fun train of thought digression but a digression none the less.
So what is a cob? There are corncobs but I do not believe that they have anything to do with spiders, dust, or abandoned spaces. Per the etiology of arachnids, coppe is a Middle English word for spider. Over the centuries, coppe transformed to cob. Coppe meant spiders, generically, but not all spiders weave cobwebs as cobs are long irregular strings of spider silk that bear little resemblance to the elegant patterned symmetric creations of a different group of spiders.
Living in Arizona can teach a person about poisons and prickly bits that no one in his or her right mind would ever wish to know about. A cob weaving spider was one of my first unwanted learning experiences in Arizona. A bark scorpion was my first. I was stung by a bark scorpion near a mountain lake at 7000 ft. altitude during the fourth month of my pregnancy. Yikes. It hurt but wasn’t too bad and didn’t seem to hurt my daughter, though she is a tough and feisty one.
The second acquaintance was with Black Widow Spiders that are cob weaving spiders. The southern exterior portions of our home here in Tucson were infested with Black widows when we first moved in. We didn’t discover this until the winter in which we moved in to the house has turned into spring. There were hollow metal columns on our porches and under our awning and there were stringy bits of erratically spun silk that appeared to originate from within the tubes. They are very resistant to most bug and spider sprays. At night, which is when they would come out, Hubby and I would take a broom, a sturdily soled shoe, and a flashlight out at night and hunt them down. Shine the light, find the spider, knock it to the ground with the broom, and kill it with the shoe. We did this for ages but were unable to exterminate the entire population, until we discovered that moth balls, the real toxic form of good old-fashioned moth balls if dropped or rolled down or back into the metal tubes would get rid of them.
Once cobwebs might have evoked a mild response from me with thoughts of attic detritus, barn rafters and wisps of house spider silk long since abandoned and covered with the filmy dust of long forgotten spaces. No longer, though. Now, I know exactly what those stringy and sticky asymmetries can mean, I think of invasion of my living space by lethal crawling creatures toxic enough to kill my babies.
Artificial cobwebs are pervasive this time of year with Halloween approaching. I have to admit that I would much rather observe the Day of the Dead with Marigolds and skulls made of sugar than with fake webs made of stringy fibers that mimic cobwebs. I’ve grown to like Tucson traditions, and cobwebs are not among them.