Friday, October 19, 2012

Concerning Cobwebs

Cobwebs.  They are actually spiderwebs with an implication of dustiness and disuse. Abandoned spiderwebs, perhaps.  You are supposed to get rid of them since their presence in your home is clearly a sign of poor housekeeping.

Yet these structures, even when sooty, torn and sagging, are a miracle of meticulous construction. No other creature can produce this phenomenon: create art using materials from its own body. When new, they shimmer in the slant of a sunbeam. They are beautiful but cunningly constructed to kill. A filigreed slaughterhouse, an abattoir disguised as a fairy castle.

In science fiction people sometimes dress in clothes made of spider silk which are always described as soft and incredibly light.

Spiders evoke fear in a lot of people though only a few of them are poisonous. They creep around on eight spindly legs, have multiple eyes and disproportionately fat bodies. These are features which many humans find revolting.

On the positive side there is Spiderman who is feared only by those who've gone over to the dark side. Then there is Anansi, the spider god of Africa and the Carribbean. As with Coyote and other trickster characters, he is both clever and foolish, cunning and inept. Even more compelling is Charlotte, the literary archetype of friendship and abiding loyalty, created by E.B. White. She uses her web-spinning ability to save the life of a sentient pig.

Quite frankly, I find it sad and rather hypocritical that the very children who cried their eyes out when Charlotte died grow up to commit  multiple homicides against harmless household spiders.

I, for one, do not kill spiders. If necessary I transport them carefully to the  great outdoors. In the days when I was teaching, both my students and my coworkers knew to alert me whenever a spider appeared in the classroom whereupon I would gently and humanely remove it from their arachnophobic presence.

In my own home, I never destroy an occupied web. Why should I?  Spiders catch flies more efficiently than I can running around with a fly swatter or a rolled newspaper. "What if it's a black widow or a recluse spider?" you ask. I have never come across either of those indoors but, if I did, I suppose I would have to kill them. Yet, I would not do so gladly. I mean, it's not their fault they carry around sacks of poison. I believe it is only human beings who deliberately chose to be lethal.

It is almost Halloween when good housekeepers will sweep away the authentic cobwebs and replace them with fabricated replicas containing synthetic spiders.  Some of these fake arachnids will move up and down  when you clap your hands. Others are constructed to crawl across the floor while their ominous-looking eyes blink red like live coals garnered from the depths of hell.

Elderly retirees such as myself sometimes imagine their once orderly, spic and span brains now cluttered with cobwebs. Old knowledge is obscured, new knowledge confounded. Thoughts no longer speed along a well-lit  road but fumble and grope through a gauzy wilderness   Cobwebs, though, can be soft as mist and ticklish as fox tails.  Perhaps senility occurs that way at times.


  1. I did not cry when I read Charlotte's web...just so ya know. I have been bitten by those non-poisonous spiders and had a SEVERE reaction. I don't like spiders, however, I am very glad and respectful of those who do not immediately want to crush them. We do need a balance in the world...your senility is far from a dusty cob-web! Thank you for sharing.

    1. So long as you didn't cry when you read Charlotte's Web, you are not a hypocrite. I've never been bitten by a spider so I don't really know whether, if that were to happen, I might turn from compassionate to murderous. I know I'm disinclined to rescue house flies or mosquitoes.

  2. Spiders, like welfare recipients, environmental activists and teachers, just get a bad rap. I'm always on their side. We should start a club.

    1. Thanks, Tara. Until I am bitten by spiders or imprisoned in silk, I will continue to admire their weaving and rescue them from imminent danger. After all, their food-seeking and/or defensive instincts are no doubt a vital part of the Great Web of Life.

  3. I'm a spider-saver, too. A while back, I left a comment about this over at the blog of the totally awesome Jane. I'm lazy, so I'm just gonna copy & paste it right here:

    "Spiders are dickheads. I know this for a fact, and I'll tell you why.

    I'm one of those people who coax spiders onto pieces of paper and then set them free outside. My husband sends 'em to Stomptown. I have a whole speech I give when people ask me why I don't just squash them and it goes pretty much like this:

    A spider who finds itself on my living room wall simply took a wrong turn. I'd like to think that if I took a wrong turn and ended up in a strange neighborhood, one of the locals would be kind enough to point me in the right direction and maybe even help me find the highway.

    Blah, blah, blah.

    Two winters ago, I woke up one morning with a spider bite on my arm. It was a little red and puffy, but not awful. The next morning, I woke to find a few more on the same arm, and the whole arm hurt like hell. I stripped the bed and cleaned high and low. The next morning, I had two new bites.

    I was on a mission to find and kill the little effer. I never did find him or any members of his family, but it took well over a week for the arm to get back to normal. It took a little longer for me to stop getting into bed at night certain that they were gunning for me.

    I still take spiders outside, but my reverence for spiders and their I'm-just-lost plight is gone. My husband, the stomper, never got so much as a nibble. Dickheads."

  4. Are you sure it was a spider that attacked you? If it was a spider, or several spiders, their behavior is not unlike that of some humans I've known -- i.e., biting the hand that feeds you, or, in this case, rescues you. What a bummer! And you didn't even get a chance to take revenge.

  5. While I admire those who choose the rescue method, I am a stomper. They creep me out. Those legs and that tickly prickly feeling if they scoot across your skin...UGH...can't stand to even write about it.

    Charlotte, by the way, was make believe. Not to be a hero crusher, but I can love a make-believe spider who loves pigs.

    I also love bacon. Isn't that the same idea as being a hypocrite about spiders?

  6. You got me on that one, Jo, because I love bacon, too, so I guess I don't mind eating Wilbur. However, I still refuse to stomp on Charlotte or sweep away her web. Morality can be selective, as I'm sure you know.

  7. OK. Here it is: Wilbur isn't as important as Charlotte to the world. And it's not the killing that's unethical to my mind, per se. It's the killing of predators which, mathematically, is a really stupid thing to do. Killing one spider is like welcoming thousands of insects into your home. According to one source I read, the weight of insects eaten by spiders every year is greater than the total weight of the entire human population. When we haplessly kill one predator, we pull apart a very neat little natural arrangement and invite their prey to proliferate out of bounds. It's actually fascinating and a longer study than could be undertaken in a comment. But truly. Lots of good reasons to leave spiders alone.

  8. Well said, Tara. People tend to consider each species in isolation: if it's pretty, admire and protect it; if it's ugly, stomp on it. Another point: domestic pigs could never make it in the wild and so if they are part of a food web, it is an artificially constructed one. Thus, Wilbur was born to be bacon while Charlotte was born to reduce the insect population.