On The Shoofly - October 2016
Moon of Orb Weavers Return
In this sensory-rich piece, take an afternoon walk where the land meets the sea in Waveland and contemplate the world of the orb spiders.
- by story by James Inabinet
Suddenly she jerks forward, hopping hurriedly, poking her beak repeatedly into the water then lifting her head high, evidently swallowing whatever she caught. Above and behind her I see pelicans in the distance, seven of them, floating in the air like synchronous swimmers. One breaks off, hovers for a few seconds, then falls gracelessly into the water.
I turn back north, look for and quickly find goldenrod spires near the ground, not quite ready to flower (which would portend autumn at least a moon away). Lavender-violet meadow-beauty is there too and tiny yellow sunflower-looking beggar ticks. Behind and above these are groundsel bushes, many covered with pepper vine, so much so that the vine appears to be a bush. A spotted dragonfly lands on one. Below it I see a patch of Indian blanket, reddish ray flowers rimmed by bright yellow. I reach over to pick one for my hair and am startled by a buzzing cicada that I apparently startled. It almost hit me!
I stand tall to look beyond these edge plants at the marsh behind. With blurry eyes I see brownish-buff punctuated by splotches of yellow-green. Farther back the marsh gives way to trees, tall pines high, hardwoods below. From left to right the trees become more distant. On the left I can pick out distinct trees. On the right I can only make out the blurry, grayish outlines of the tallest ones.
A train suddenly emerges between marsh and forest that appears to be running on top of the marsh grass. I didn’t know the railroad tracks went through there. Every now and again a gust kicks up that audibly rattles brown seed pods of partridge pea to my right. Seconds later the leading edge of that same gust animates the marsh grass as a visible wave reminding me of wind blowing across wheat fields abutting Colorado mountains.
I leave the beach and drive to the old wildflower trail in the Pass. Not 50 feet down the trail I run into a spider web of golden silk, its maker a huge goldish spider with black-banded legs. She scurries higher to get away from me. I look ahead and see another down the trail a ways.
If there’s truth in “for everything there is a season,” then it’s spider time. I created a lunar calendar after observing nature for 20 years, one that recognizes moon phases vis-à-vis monthly changes throughout a year. Right now it’s late in the “Moon of Orb Weavers Return.” During this moon, many orb-weaving spiders that seemed scarce over much of the year have inexplicably returned in great numbers.
I have watched spiders closely, observing unique and distinctive behaviors that, taken together, I call “spiderness.” Even if far away and blurry, spider behavior can be instantly recognized even though you might not be able to say why. Many behaviors are easy to describe, like web behaviors: emitting strands out of their body, manipulating them with their front legs round and round. Some catch a bug and leave it where it lands. Others don’t, like a reddish orb weaver near my shop that caught a katydid last week. After subduing it, she wrapped him up and carried the bundle up to a crossing branch. Then she took the web apart, eating a strand at a time. I could hardly find her an hour later up there sitting quietly.
Other forms of spiderness aren’t so easy to describe. Even spiders that don’t weave webs perform distinctive behaviors that shout spider! Maybe it has something to do with the way they move around, the way they lift their legs high, one then the other. It reminds me of a man in a business suit who mimics spiderness when walking through a puddled parking lot.
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