Toying With Nature's Dinner Menu

I was sitting reading a book by a window in what we call our morning room when my peripheral vision informed me of activity in the upper right-hand corner of the window. Adjourning reading for the moment, I looked closely enough to see a little drama being enacted.

An unalert honey bee strayed from her appointed rounds (``her'' because worker bees are female) and found herself caught in a spider's web strung across the corner of the window. Perhaps she was remote kin to James Thurber's ``fairly intelligent fly'' who, you may recall, made the same in-flight mistake with flypaper. But there she was, thrashing about, both sets of wings humming, but gradually getting herself tied up tighter and tighter in the spider's web.

I could spot the resident black spider on patrol at the outer edge of the web licking his ``fangs'' at the prospective acquisition of honey bee.

Now, as a reader of both Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Wordsworth, I have been primed to believe that nature never shows a mean appearance. But when a snake swallows a field mouse or a black spider salivates (so to speak) over a snared bee, I have some reservations. So I decided to play the part of deus ex machina in the drama.

Out the morning-room door I went, picked up a small twig with which I could reach the bee, and lifted her and the entangling piece of web from the window. I placed both on the edge of the sundial in the adjacent garden. The bee continued to flutter her sets of wings furiously, but could not immediately free herself from the piece of web, which clung both to her and to the surface of the sundial.

In time, with dogged persistence, she managed to get all save one leg loose, but a last filament of web held her from freedom. She would launch out, only to be pulled back again and again by the tenacious elasticity of the strand. I confess that I completely forgot my errand of mercy in favor of an abstract fascination with the bee's repeated strains and defeats.

Suddenly, I felt a twinge of meanness and remembered my role in the little drama. I quickly put my thumbnail down on the vexing strand and gave the bee her freedom. Away she soared!

When I returned to my book, I could still see the black spider on the far edge of the window, ruefully (as I fancied) contemplating the lost meal. As for myself, I wryly speculated that in saving the bee, if not in cheating the spider, I may have vindicated the views of both Emerson and Wordsworth.

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