I have a deathly fear and healthy respect for spiders. I bear the scar of the bite of a brown recluse. I shake out my pillowcases at night and check in corners and crevasses for signs of webs and the detritus they leave behind after a mid-morning snack. In my house, because of my fear and vigilance, I control their fate.
Outdoors, in the wild, in the garden, on my deck, they reign supreme. I honor their diligence in keeping aphids off my plants. I watch them jump and scurry undercover as I step on the rock beds to water late at night.
We keep a safe distance each from the other.
Until yesterday afternoon.
I stepped onto our porch and spotted the web. Tiny silvery threads from one corner post to another, some five feet apart. In between, a massive trap. Geometrically precise, a wonder to the eye. Light enough to sway in the breeze, yet enough tensile strength to withstand harsher winds. I knew, instinctively, that if I pulled it down with the handle of my broom, a new web spinner, spying at a safe distance, would return in the dark of night and mock me in the morning. Perhaps not only one new web, but another nearby.
As I stepped back, I noticed one silvery thread, extending from the eave to the railing on the porch. In between, a much much smaller web, a mere glisten in the sun.
There, hanging on for dear life, a cicada, its transparent wings fluttering wildly, its legs bicycling mid-air, and a few inches beyond...
Watching and waiting.
I couldn't move.
I was close enough to see its fangs and the intricate color markings on its body as it rested on the web. An orb weaver, I believe it was, known for the size and the remarkable pattern of the web it meticulously weaves, secured by a long thin strand from the edge of the overhang to the post on the porch.
While the cicada thrashed and spun, the spider skittered up the long thread to camouflage itself from harm, in the dried leaves in the eave.
To sit and wait.
To wait and sit.
Just out of sight.
I wanted to do something. Help somehow. Yet, I knew it was too late. The venom from the spider's bite already circulating through the cicada's body, penetrating even deeper with each writhing squirm.
Life and death in the garden.
The struggle to survive.
The hunt for nourishment.
Every silvery link on the food chain on display. The hunter and the hunted. The predator and the prey.
The cicada still singing in the birch tree and the cicada cocooned within the web. Luck? Fate?
Imperfect or perfect timing?
The Orb Weaver casts a spell. Sets a trap.
It is a feat of almost magical design.
The spider spins and weaves in a geometric pattern, depositing a gooey tar paper layer on the circle of the web, while leaving the radii smooth as silk, so that the spider may flee rapidly away from the web and either descend to the ground or return speedily along the tightrope to the eaves.
The very lack of movement,
Now the arduous task begins. Slowly, carefully, the spider weaves a delicate shroud. Transparent as glass. Thin as tissue. Fine as lisle thread.
I am only a few inches away.
Every move is a dance.
I think to myself.
Why the wait?
Why the wrapping?
The tying up of loose ends.
Why the ceremony?
The spider and the cicada in the middle of the ring. Winner and loser. All part of a masterful design. And while I mourn the loss of the cicada, I am well aware that the spider is prey for the bats nestled patiently in the canopy waiting for dusk.
It is finished.
The cicada stumbled into the web at 5 o'clock this afternoon.
It is now almost 9.
The sun is down.
The stars are out.
And the spider knows I am here.
It scampers up the thread to the eaves.
To once again, sit and wait.
Wait and sit.
I am the uninvited guest to this table.
It is time for me to leave.
A Requiem for the Creatures of the Wild
I wanted to write it.
And illustrate it.
I don't know why.
"Walk softly and carry a big stick."
I do that indoors.
But outside, in the wild, in the garden, I am reminded that there is indeed, a space between life and death.
A finite space.
Where I must walk softly and carry with me an open heart.
Friend or foe? Foe or friend?
Or perhaps, just travelers on the same journey.
The journey from HERE to THERE.