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Larry Weber's journey to web-watching

Nature columnist and retired Barnum teacher Larry Weber won an award from the Independent Books Publisher Association for his book, "Web Watching: A Guide to Webs and the Spiders That Make Them." Andee Erickson / Pine Journal

Larry Weber knows his area of expertise doesn't inspire much demand from the public. In fact, he's noticed people tend to close their minds off from wanting to learn more about the eight-legged critters he considers the most amazing animals to have ever lived.

But that didn't stop him from writing his second book about spiders, which just won an award from the Independent Book Publishers Association.

"They're just plain amazing. They're common, they can do all sorts of stuff," Weber said. "I don't think science fiction could even invent the spider, they're just amazing."

Weber, who many know from his "Northland Nature" column in the Pine Journal, is a retired seventh-grade teacher from Barnum who continues to share his passion for the natural world through educational talks and programs around the state.

His book, "Web Watching: A Guide to Webs and the Spiders That Make Them," is filled with images of the four types of webs and their creators, most of them local to this region.

He views his new book, which was released in the fall of 2017, as a follow-up to his first spider book that's strictly about the critters themselves, though the two books have different publishers.

A few years ago, Weber was in the middle of Wisconsin driving east toward the rising sun early one morning and observed hundreds of webs covered in dew along the sides of the roads. That's when he got an idea.

"How many of those could I actually see the spiders? None," Weber said. "So I thought, 'What if we can just look at the webs and recognize the spider by looking at the webs?'"

Weber wanted to identify spiders just by their webs alone in the same way animals can be identified from their tracks and birds can be identified by their songs. He also understood that people who don't appreciate spiders can still often admire the beauty in a web.

Spiders in books

As a teacher, Weber noticed a real demand for more information on local spiders, especially if progress was to be made on dispelling misinformation about the critters, including the myth that spiders are dangerous. In fact, Weber said venomous spiders aren't native to this part of the world.

"The adult books that exist, if they exist, tend to be really technical and nobody can understand them unless they're a professor of that particular topic," Weber said.

He'd rather the information be accessible to the general public, which is how he approaches his own writing, and the reason why he believes nonfiction children's books about spiders are pretty good.

But to Weber, nothing beats E.B. White's novel "Charlotte's Web," in part because White spent a year studying with a spider expert in the 1940s, Weber said.

"So there's a lot of good information in the book, but the other thing I like even more," he said, "is that most people who read the book fall in love with Charlotte. I have had talks at state parks where after the talk, one of the parents came up to me and said, 'I read that story to my children and I still cry when Charlotte dies.'"

Weber, who's curiosity toward spiders began as a teenager, has never followed dominant cultural advice, which says to fear or kill the spider. Instead, he offers his own advice.

"If you don't like something, that's fine," Weber said, "but that doesn't mean you have to hurt it."

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Fun facts about webs

Larry Weber knows a slew of interesting facts about spiders and their webs. Here's some he shared from his book, "Web-Watching: A Field Guide to Webs and the Spiders That Make Them:"

• Spiders have five to seven silk glands, depending on the species, and each gland is responsible for making a different type of silk with a different function.

• Spiders build their webs at night in order to catch food.

• By morning, if the wind hasn't knocked down the web, most spiders will eat their web and recycle about 70 percent of the material for the next night's web.

Andee Erickson

Andee Erickson has been a reporter with the Pine Journal since November 2018. She studied journalism and geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, while working at the Leader-Telegram newspaper on weekends. She graduated in 2018. Erickson's from southern Minnesota, but started viewing the north as home after interning for the Duluth News Tribune in the summer of 2017.