Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fire in the Webs

It's still quite difficult to blog; I'm used to sitting down for two or three hours when the writing fit is on me, and my spine objects to anything over ten minutes. So I'll keep this short and sweet...

I celebrated my Solstice with a day off from my job--and I'm so glad I am openly requesting religious holidays at last. On my day off, I watched the sun come up through the line of white pines at the edge of the former pasture (now woodlot) behind our house. Then I put on hiking boots with cleats, and using a ski pole in lieu of my cane, I made the rounds of our quince and apple trees, with a libation of hard cider.

That afternoon, I wandered three miles along woods roads and the ridge path, out to the pine tree with the bee hive in it. I didn't offer the bees anything--as far as I could see or hear, they were all asleep--but as I turned to hike home again, I noticed the oddest thing:


It was perhaps twenty degrees outside, with brilliant sun, warm against the trunks of the oaks and hemlocks. I noticed small birds, chickadees and other nimble things, hopping up and down the ridges of bark, and even hanging from the undersides of branches, pecking at invisible somethings. Insects? Spiders?

In any case, there they were, improbably enough: glinting in hair-thin lines of fire, dozens upon dozens of fine threads of spiderweb, running through the branches of the understory. If I turned my head even a fraction of a degree to the right or left, they were so fine they disappeared entirely. Only with the help of the blazing sunlight could I see them at all.

Spiders, alert, awake, and spinning their webs on the shortest day of the year.

When I returned home, I did some research online, and learned that, indeed, there are several species of spider that do awaken and even clamber about on the surface of the snow in the dead of winter. And some web spinning species, unthinkably, hatch out in early winter, living on what little they can find until the spring returns.

One site claimed that to find a spiderweb on Christmas Day is good luck. I have decided that finding the webs of infinitesimally small spiders at midwinter is more than good luck: it is a sign of the stubbornness and persistence of life. As much as the return of the sun, the inventiveness and intrepidity of even the smallest of lives is something to admire, and try to find in ourselves.

Bright blessings, all.


kevin roberts said...

It's the smallest things that have the greatest strength, the little things that can be unmade so easily.

What are the pioneers of any ecological succession? What lodges in the cracks of the just-cooled lava flows and takes root?

The littlest things.

Mary Ellen said...

What a great image of life's stubbornness and beauty. I'm sorry to hear (from recent posts) of your back injury. May you heal soon and completely.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Thanks, Mary Ellen. I am definitely on the mend. I expect to leave off using the cane entirely within a few weeks, though I expect I'll have to limit my time sitting or in a car for rather longer.

I've been reading the most wonderful book on forest ecology, _Reading the Landscape_ by Tom Wessels. Despite having lived in New England almost all my life, I keep discovering new small and vital things about this landscape that blow my mind: the degree of management of the New England forests by Native Americans through fire. (Are ticks more of a problem now because, unlike Native Americans, we do not use this tool to limit the duff on the forest floor? Does hemlock predominate over hickory for that same reason?) Or the fact that the seeds of the birch are too small to contain within them enough nourishment for a birch sapling to take root save where the duff is gone--as after a fire. So when I see a birch tree in a deep wood carpeted with leaves, I can know that, barring fire, it will not have any children near it; and I can date the age of the wood by the age of such a tree.

And, of course, on another level, there's just wonder. Something new every day, now that I can look on the woods with both the eyes of an adult and the eyes (I hope) of my childhood.

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...


Grandmother Spider, stealing fire from the sun on Solstice Day!

Blessed Be!

Liz Opp said...

Beautiful post, Cat. Glad I took the time to read it.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

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