Ever watch a garden spider spin her web (yes, only the girls make the big ones)?  It’s an amazing process requisite of a highly evolved bit of anatomy.  There are six different glands nearly filling a spider’s abdomen each producing different sorts of silk.  Ductwork connects the glands to spinnerets, which are in fact repurposed vestigial legs.

  When ready to set up her redoubt our little friend secures a perch some distance above the ground or any other more or less horizontal feature.  She then simultaneously secretes silk from several of her spinnerets divergently aimed.  Light wafts of air will thus cause the threads to loosely combine and form a sort of kite.  With luck, said waft will carry said kite downwind TO sticks to some solid surface.

  She will then grab the secured line with her hind legs and begin to roll it up while simultaneously attaching a new one behind her by which to let herself across – still aloft.  Once to the middle, she connects the two ends and lets herself down.  Critically, she then moves a few paces perpendicularly one way or another before affixing that end thus ensuring that the plane of the finished product will be inclined.

  Complex, but similar steps create the rest of the web’s framework.  Last but not least is the sticky part – the only sticky part.  Working from the outside toward the middle she winds a spiral of thread beaded with a glue like substance.  Guess the reason for the inclined orientation of the web plane?  Ms. Spider moves about her orb by grasping the nonstick  framework from its underside.  Neat huh?

  Even though she has eight eyes, she doesn’t use them to locate entrapped quarry.  Instead, she employs a remarkable sense of touch.  The impact of, say, a fly would of course be very apparent due to the reverberation.  To find and dispatch fly before it dispatches itself, spider plucks the threads like an angel of death with a guitar strumming a chord in a minor key. Specific vibration pattern pinpoints next meal.

  Now even if you’re an arachnophobe (and I’m related to at least one with a real problem*) that is pretty amazing.  No matter what your metaphysics, you have to agree with the preacher in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “…human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders”.        

  Remember Charlotte?  A great book.  Eudora Welty called it “just about perfect… about friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time.”**

  Here’s Charlotte telling spring pig friend Wilbur how to construct a web: “Take a deep breath.  Now climb to the highest place you can get to.  Then make an attachment with your spinnerets.  Throw yourself into space and let out a drag-line as you go down.”  A plenty good description for a naïve little pig.

  As I’m sure you’ll recall, Charlotte soon uses her skills to save Wilbur from getting turned “into smoked bacon and ham”.  Farmer Zuckerman and soon neighbors from near and far marvel over patterns in Charlotte’s web that first read” “SOME PIG”, then when people seem to get bored with that “TERRIFIC”, then “RADIANT, and finally “HUMBLE”. 

  At one point rat friend Templeton suggested “crunchy” to which Charlotte responded “Just the wrong idea” for obvious reasons.  Asked about all that effort in his behalf she responds: “You’re my friend, Wilbur.  That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

  Wilbur returns her vital favors by ensuring the safety of her egg sack and its 514 occupants.  As we leave the scene, Wilbur regales several progeny, Joy among them, with tales of their mother.  You should maybe reread the book.  Besides the simple vocabulary, it’s easy because as Ms Welty also wrote: it is “a book for children, which is nice for us older ones as it calls for big type.”

*One time oldest daughter awoke in a small room to see a web wove just above her – plane parallel to floor – and affixed to all four walls.   She not same since.

**NYT 10/15/52

***”Salutations” was the first word Charlotte was heard to utter as well as that of daughter Joy both in address to Wilbur.

One Response to “Salutations!”

  1. wolfmane Says:

    Absolutely WONDERFUL writing! Thank you!

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