A kind of heroism

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A journalist friend once told me, "Don't write about snakes and spiders. Like most of us, editors react to these creatures with an 'UGH!'" I wonder. Hasn't the incomparable Charlotte in E. B. White's masterpiece changed all that? I know she has for me. After we read "Charlotte's Web" together, my young grandson asked me, "Grandma, do you love spiders?"

"I don't exactly love them, Robby," I answered. "I'm just interested in them."

"Does 'interested' mean love or hate?" asked this persistent little boy.

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I hedged. "Well," I said, "I don't kill them. And I like to watch them spin their beautiful webs and . . ."

Robby ended the conversation right there with, "I guess 'interested' means you love em."

He has seen me scoop up a scuttling spider from the kitchen wall to deposit it gently outdoors. I don't know if he has noticed that, when I ruthlessly sweep the little fellows from garage corners, I scan the floor to be sure they have scurried to safety.

In the fall, in the early morning when the air is fresh and before the dew has dried, I go into my garden in search of spider webs. There will always be one among the roses and possibly one stretched from a rose bush to a nearby spruce tree. The dew will be caught in tiny drops along each fine line of silk, all glistening in the sun and stunning the eye with splendor. I follow one of the drag lines to a rose bush. I find the architect of this shimmering, tenuous orb hiding under a leaf. I say hello -- and why not? I say hello to the roses too.

With the approach of winter webs are frantically hung in the most unlikely places outside my house. I walk about carefully, but my dog does not know about spiders and she often comes home with rosettes of white silk caught rakishly in her black poodle curls.

One morning as I pulled up the blinds in my living room I was looking eye to eye through the glass at a huge brown spider hanging motionless in the middle of a four foot web. She had apparently attached it to the storm window during the night. Her black and orange striped spinnerets and three pairs of legs were stretched out looking deceptively relaxed. During the week she stayed there I often watched her mending the holes that the wind had torn in her web during the night. She would pull the silk through her spinnerets, locking it adroitly at exact intervals along the lines of silk. It was like watching the deft, swift fingers of an expert needlewoman working on a delicate piece of lace. But the silk of a spider's web is not delicate. I have read that it is lighter and stronger than even the silkworm's thread.

Spiders do not allow their vulnerability to predators and bad weather to daunt them. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from these creatures. The anthropologist Loren Eiseley, in his book, "The Immense Journey," recalled a touching encounter with an orb-weaving spider spinning her web on a lighted lamp post. It was a cold autumn night with a light snow falling. Loren Eiseley writes, "There she was, the universe running down around her, warmly arranged among her guy ropes attached to the lamp support . . . an embodiment of the life force, not giving up to frost." Later he says, ". . . a kind of heroism . . . a spider refuses to lie down and die if a rope can still be spun onto a star."

Some warm spring day I must be there when an egg case opens and the spiderlings emerge. I want to see them shed their skins and drop to twigs, grass tips and fence posts. When they release a woven silk thread from their bodies I want to be there when the air currents whisk them upward, hundreds of these tiny creatures, to land miles away. I want to be there to see the masses of ballooning threads which are called gossamer.

What a fantastic sight that would be. And after experiencing it I challenge anyone to utter that ugly word, "UGH!" when spiders are mentioned.

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