Here is a terrible picture of an amazing spider:
While taking a break in one of the gazebos at Castle Rock Unique Area (a name I love nearly as much as I love the place itself) during a Sunday hike, Raven* spotted a stunning orb web. He pointed it out it to me, and as I shifted on my bench to see it better, a large fly bumbled into the web.
“Oh,” Raven laughed, “someone is going to be lunch.”
We watched as the fly struggled, neither of us inclined to intervene in something that is very much not our business.
“Wait! Is that the spider?” Raven pointed at a solid yellow lump on the gazebo ceiling, directly above the center of the web. It was large for a spider, bigger across than a quarter and, with her legs pulled in, looked more like a bit of art than an arachnid. Even as my brain wanted to deny that this could possibly be the spider that made this web, she unfolded her legs and made her way down a guyline to investigate the hubbub below.
There is a strange majesty to meaty bugs (yes, we can quibble about that word), those creatures that cross the threshold from incidental members of a biomass to individuals with their own weighty presence. This one moved like a sea creature, like a nightmare, like something with her own story who doesn’t need some soft pink creature to tell her story. Despite knowing full well that orb weavers aren’t the bite-iest (it’s a word now!) spiders, my instincts told me to shy away, to give this lady her distance while she made good on her lunch. And despite my best efforts to focus on the fascinating structure of the abdomen, the incredible speed with which the fly was wrapped, removed and consumed at a distance, my OH GOSH EW GROSS instinct was in full overdrive.
So, my hands were shaking – ever-so-slightly but enough – while I took her picture, trying to capture a piece of a world that I don’t think about that frequently. Spiders and their meals fill the world, but I am often far too invested in thinking about whether my pants make me look terrible. (Hint: they do.)
Moments like this are moments that reconfirm my devotion to the world outdoors, valuable reminders of our ultimate smallness, our relative unimportance. We humans may build the world’s infrastructure, but the world will go on without us. We may trigger (or have already triggered) catastrophic climate change that will make this beautiful world unlivable for us and most of the creatures on it. But when it has worked through the damage that we’ve done, when we are only a part of the planet’s memories, when mile-high glaciers have scraped our proud cities flat, someone like that spider and someone like that fly will appear again, and live their lives of tension and survival, and never miss the humans they never knew. And for whatever reason, that very fact makes me want to be a better world citizen, to do as little ill as possible and spend as much time watching spiders (birds, frogs, chipmunks etc.) as I possibly can.
*No-duh disclaimer: my husband’s name isn’t Raven, but I don’t think it’s fair to use his real name – especially when there are people on the internet who want to know more about him than he’d care to share. Raven isn’t even his totem animal of choice, but they share enough traits that the name is apt and natural to me.