The King of Infinite Space

We are truly enmeshed in a web of life. I suppose I’ve come to this realization rather late in my own process, but serendipity seldom runs up to greet you –it peeks around corners first, daring you to approach. You don’t even see it -at least I didn’t.

The evening started off as usual; I was taking the lid off the garbage can where I have to store the dog food to keep it away from whatever has taken up residence under my woodpile, when I noticed a magnificent spider web sparkling in the phonelight. One strand was attached to the lid, whether because of engineering considerations, or because it had just moved into the neighbourhood, and didn’t know I had to feed the dog every day is unclear- but its spans reminded me of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and I stared at it, entranced.

Until, that is, I noticed a huge rainbow-coloured spider in the epicenter staring at me as if I were the motherlode it had been praying for. I suppose I should have been flattered at being appreciated for something other than the clothes I wore or the phone I carried, but it just felt creepy. Nevertheless, I opened the lid very carefully and managed to destroy only one of the stanchions that anchored its office. It still managed to stare at me –I don’t think they can turn it off- but with new respect I’d like to think.

But, given a fresh lease on its career path, by the next evening it had reattached the recalcitrant span to the lid and watched me approach with unnerving calm. I tried to get at the dog food without destroying the web strand, but alas I am clumsy and I could feel the exasperation from those eyes. My dog only shrugged; she was hungry too. One has to apportion loyalties appropriately; collateral damage has to be factored in as an unfortunate consequence of taking sides, I think. Yes, I felt guilt –who wouldn’t? But at least I had arrived at a workable compromise: I didn’t bulldoze its house or anything; it still had a decent storefront and I think the sign in the window was still legible. Of course I don’t read spider.

By the third evening, however, having mulled the matter over, I decided to see if I could reattach the offending strand to something else and mitigate both the inconvenience to the spider and my not inconsiderable guilt. I arrived with what I hoped would be appropriate tools –tweezers, a wearable headlight, and a magnifying glass. I also dragged out a chair from the kitchen realizing the rescue effort would probably drag on into the early hours of the night. It’s like surgery –you can’t rush unprepared, willy-nilly into the unknown. But, unlike the multitude of textbooks describing operative techniques to which I was privy during my salad days, there was precious little on repairing spider webs in the common sources. There was the usual talk about sticky and non-sticky threads and so on, but to a non-arachnid, it was like reading an insurance policy –full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.

And yet, as I approached the lid under the spider’s watchful, anxious gaze, I was reminded of what Oppenheimer said after witnessing the first atomic explosion at Alamogordo; he quoted Vishnu from the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’. Stuff like that runs through your mind when you are attempting something really outside of your species training. I suppose its natural enough, although I did wonder what the spider would do if our roles were reversed.

In fact, I felt a bit embarrassed; I fervently hoped no one would come up the driveway, or stare curiously from the road as I sat, tweezers poised, with the narrow beam of my light focussed on a garbage can but otherwise alone in a dark garage. People have been put on medication for less. And yet, I was convinced of the importance of my mission. I have always wanted a cause. I have always wanted to travel abroad and fix wells and nail schools and things. I think we all have that innate need to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I never made it to Africa or Asia, but sometimes charity begins at home. Sometimes we are blind to the needs of those around us -the silent ones who cannot complain. I girded my courage, swallowed my doubts, and sat down in front of the web.

But occasionally we underestimate the ingenuity of those we do not fully understand. Give someone a fish, and they eat for a day; teach them to fish and… well you know how it goes. I felt like I would be building a home –well, repairing it at least- and he could take it from there; I felt good about that. Sometimes we just have to swallow our mammalian chauvinism and get on with it.

The only problem was that I couldn’t find the silk rope that he’d been so faithfully gluing to the lid. I tried changing the angle of the light and even tried gently shaking the can to see how well that affected the rest of his web. Nothing. The spider just sat there, king-of-the-castle, chewing his cud and smiling. He’d decided to attach his kingdom somewhere else I suppose, but for some reason I felt diminished. Offended. I had offered succour in a time of anticipated need, and yet I and all my vaunted preparations had been spurned. Made to feel foolish. Unnecessary.

I briefly fantasized about tearing down his entire web and punishing him for his hasty improvisation, his unsuspected initiative. And then it occurred to me that he had learned from my clumsy destruction of the evenings before. Imagine that –a primitive animal proving it could be self-sufficient. That it was as good at surviving in its world as I was in mine…

There’s probably a lesson in that, but I just fed the dog and hurried into the house before it started to rain. I’m pretty confident there will be other spiders to help, though. You just have to watch when you dust.

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1 thought on “The King of Infinite Space

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