by Sheila Weaver
Dripping from leaf to leaf and slowly down to the ground, fog permeates field and woods. High in the brightening sky the moon, almost to her third quarter, is a little misty also; but the fog is only a ground fog, not thick. Clean-smelling in this pastoral, sparsely-populated valley, and very wet.
A tangle of low bushes, their ragged leaves mostly fallen now, encloses a small field. And bracken. And among the bushes and bracken hang dense, finely-woven spider webs. Less than a hand-width across, the bottom of each is as smooth and unbroken as a bowl. A thinner sheet beneath echoes its rounded bottom; the superstructure rises high like rigging on a sailing ship.
Mere words cannot do justice to these fairy ships. Every strand, and all the guy wires anchoring them to stem and leaf, is hung with jewels. Along the rigging the tiny beads cluster so close together I can barely distinguish them from simply a heavier strand of silk. So fine the weaving, so fresh and new each web. So fragile - yet so enduring; for spiders have lived on earth a long, long time. And so prolific: one young fir, only my height to its very tip, is bedecked with at least forty of these bejeweled webs, like white gossamer Christmas ornaments, or tiny lanterns hung among the boughs to light the fairy way.
Along the adjacent railroad track grows a thicket of thimbleberry bushes, their indented “maple” leaves now many shades of soft red and gold. And horsetails, short and fat like tiny green brooms, interspersed with a smaller number of tall leafless stalks, jointed, primeval. And yet more bracken. Abundant where the soil has been disturbed - in fields, on roadside verges, here beside the tracks - the once-green bracken is brown and tattered now.
And among all these, but especially among the clustered stalks of the horsetails and adorning the dripping trees, softly shining in the fog - our fairy ships. How many hundreds, if not thousands, in just one hectare of bush and meadow, when there are forty in one small tree? At each, out of sight beneath stem or leaf, grasping a signal thread, a tiny spider waits. How many will catch enough prey to live and propagate? How many other kinds of spiders inhabit the same land, building other types of snare or living at other seasons?
How many insects might there be, if it were not for spiders?
On each side of the narrow valley the forested hills peek dimly through the brightening fog, which drifts in diaphanous waves up the green, placid river. Suddenly a squirrel chatters; a horse neighs in a distant pasture. Otherwise there is no sound save the whisper of the river and the constant drip of fog.
Now on the high eastern crest, between the dim silhouettes of two forest trees - the sun appears! Pale yellow moon-sized orb hanging for a moment in the trees, soon it will be too bright to look at.
Meanwhile, along the tracks, in bushes and pasture lands, by the roadsides, spiders, thousands of tiny spiders, wait.
©2006 Sheila Weaver Used by permission