I have always felt a strong heart connection with Debbie, now confirmed by learning of our shared love of E.B. White and Charlotte. I am fascinated by the spider facts she shares and gratified to follow where her thread of words leads us.
by Debbie Carlson, Woodinville, WA
Usually I don’t notice Orb-weaver spiders in April. In the Pacific Northwest they’re tiny this time of year. And I’m not normally outside in the backyard this much.
But these are hardly normal days.
The Orb-weaver is barely the size of my pinkie nail. If it survives the coming months, it will continue to sling silk between sweet peas, window frames, and planters, and it will spin webs several feet wide. But so far 2020 has been a ragged reminder not to become over-fond of future visions. Today, the web is the size of a coaster hung between two balusters in the deck railing.
No doubt the spider attracts my attention because I’m writing a novel in which spiders and their silk play a large role. Here’s what I’ve learned about spider silk: the US Navy, Army, and Airforce all want to militarize it. Because spider silk, a fluid stew of proteins, is some of the stretchiest, strongest, most resilient material on the planet. It’s antimicrobial and antibacterial and largely waterproof. It’s ten times tougher than Kevlar and five times stronger than steel. Although it’s easy to assume spider webs are fragile—after all, they break so easily when we walk through them!—the truth is that if those three-thousandths-of-a-millimeter diameter threads were scaled up just one full millimeter, they could stop a helicopter. So the US military is working with research institutions like Purdue, Utah State and the University of Wyoming, as well as bioengineering companies like Kraig Biocraft Labs, to create an artificial production system.
Commanders and generals might see lighter, stronger body armor in spider webs, but I tend toward the more meditative. As if I were a character in Charlotte’s Web, I imagine what messages I might see along those silken lines:
What was, is no more.
A force of nature can destroy whatever you’ve built in the blink of an eye. Regardless of how much you toiled, how carefully you tended, how sturdily you built.
Look to your lines of support.
Rediscover who, and what, and which practices anchor you to your space of belonging. Nurture the courage to live on the arcs and spirals, facing the full force of the wind.
You have the resources you need to meet this moment.
Even as work and education and economic models dissolve; even as hopes for holidays, religious rites, family gatherings, and graduation rituals get blown up; even as neighbors and friends and family become sick—possibly die—remember that you come from a long line of people who survived. This is your time to meet.
Pay attention to what lands in the web.
Alongside social distancing, overwhelm, grief, fear, and suspicion, there is also connection, meaning, and beauty. The colorful jig-saw puzzle design on the cashier’s homemade face mask. The crows’ feet crinkle of smile lines at the corner of the eyes that tells you that person is smiling. The child laughing at a teddy bear in the window. The Free Little Pantry at the edge of your neighbor’s garden. Keep looking; keep seeing.
Look to what you’re creating.
You are not merely a victim of this time, trapped and struggling in a tangle of anxiety and fear. More than ever you have capacity to create, to connect, and to share. Like the Orb-weaver, you also spin your thoughts, actions, and dreams into the world. These days will not last forever, and how you evolve during this pandemic pause could change the trajectory of history.