The sight of a spider makes many humans recoil with fear. Not so much with a particular specimen on Burlington's Crombie Street, even though it is extraordinarily large.
The strangely fuzzy arachnid dangles upside down from a utility pole just outside Barrio Bakery, clutching a bottle of maple syrup. Its back legs are strapped together with neon-blue duct tape. Harsh Vermont weather has molded its straggly fur into windblown peaks. And though its red plastic eyes still glimmer softly in sunlight, the creature appears to have been there a very long time. In fact, it looks quite at home on its pole.
Inquiring minds have asked us: WTF?
Neither the bright, cheery façade of Barrio nor the bakery's employees offer any clues about the spider's origins. "It's been there forever," said ceramicist and barista Rory Shamlian as she served up lattes to a quiet morning crowd. How long is forever? "Maybe a few years," she speculated. "You should ask the people at Junktiques."
Just down North Winooski Avenue, a wealth of secondhand items at Junktiques Collective fills the shop and spills out the door. The spider would fit right in there. However, an employee behind the counter had only another referral: "You should talk to the Ramble."
He was talking about the annual fête organized by a small group of committed, artistic members of the hood. The party takes place throughout the Old North End, with various homes and businesses hosting events, art shows and food sales. Jeannie Waltz, an art history teacher at Rock Point School, currently heads the group that organizes the Ramble.
Waltz said the first time she saw the Crombie Street spider was last week, when she met with artist Jen Berger about Decaturfest. That annual street party coincides with the Ramble and is hosted by residents of block-long Decatur Street. Both celebrations take place on the last Saturday of July.
Waltz believes the spider is a recent arrival. Her first thought, she said, was What's the archival quality of this piece? Not a surprising reaction for someone in her profession. Waltz also noted that the maple syrup bottle appears to be newer, perhaps added by a second stealthy installer.
"It looks awkward," she said. "It's not the average street art."
Waltz suggested talking to Steph Pappas, a contributor to the Ramble who lives across the street from the spider.
A musician and longtime ONE resident, Pappas said she first noticed the spider three years ago on Halloween. She confirmed that the syrup jug was added sometime this year. Her thoughts on the furry pole climber? "I don't really care," Pappas said indifferently. "It can get gone."
Other residents, however, have become more attached. Lydia Kern, a former Barrio employee, said the arachnid seemed to greet her when she arrived at work.
"It was a few months of walking by it before I was like, Let me rethink this," Kern said. "You're a spider holding a jar of maple syrup? What? Who? Why?"
Kern's friend Dre Falzarano, who also lives nearby, supported Pappas' observation. "I always thought it was a Halloween decoration," she said.
Falzarano even has a nickname for it: the Maple Spider — a riff on maple cider that she said "made her dad-joke heart sing." She also revealed that she would like to "marry the maker of the Maple Spider."
The offer stands, folks.
"I think the genius of the Maple Spider," Kern said, "is that you don't question it, because it belongs there."
"I just like that it's still there," Falzarano added. "It's one of those beautiful Vermont moments."
Berger noted that the ONE is prone to ornamentation. For Decaturfest, she said, "We decorate the streets and the trees. We have decorations going from house to house across the street."
However, though Decaturfest and the Ramble often leave remnants behind, Berger insisted that the spider was installed on a different occasion.
For now, its origins remain a mystery, but the giant arachnid is unquestionably a part of this quirky Burlington neighborhood.
Pappas will host her third annual house concert during this year's Ramble, inviting listeners to lounge in her garden as she plays music on the porch. Perhaps the spider will be listening, too.