Grateful like Gulliver
(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)Even if you’ve never read the 18th-century classic Gulliver’s Travels, you might be familiar with the scene in which Gulliver, asleep on the ground, awakes to find himself bound fast by tiny ropes belong to the Lilliputians - a race of people about six inches tall.Trail-running or mountain-biking through our woods these days causes me to remember that passage. As I rip through the strands of spiderwebs across the trail, I feel quite Gulliver-like. Sometimes at knee height, but mostly right about the level of my face, the spiders’ handiwork don’t really disturb me…except when there’s the added sensation of a crunchy object bouncing off my nose.I’ve been known to flail my arms around a little when that happens.Sewanee professor and writer David Haskell has apparently been having the same experience. He recently posted on Facebook:
“Ah, silk brushing across my lips.Bonus sensation: the jagged abdomen of a Micrathena spider.Every woodland trail has facefuls of araneid delight.”
Professor Haskell could probably tell me whether in fact these strands tend to be at face-height, similar to the way that gnats, if I remember correctly, congregate at a like distance from the ground. All I know is that upon emerging from the trail, removing my cap or helmet is like lifting a veil, or maybe mosquito netting.On my way home I find freeloading small black arachnids hitching rides on my shorts or the top tube of my bike frame, or even dangling from my glasses. Gently detaching the blameless critters, it occurs to me that I’ve never made the connection between this urgent fall web-weaving and the widespread use of the spiderweb theme for Halloween. I guess I just thought they were chosen as a symbol because to so many people, spiders are scary things.For me, though, the spiders and their entangling filaments are cause for gratitude. After all, their presence is much more tolerable than the aforementioned gnats, whose pesky whining is the single worst part of warm-weather trail-hopping.Like the carpet of acorns on the trails, or the squirrel I saw burying a nut outside Fulford Hall, the spiderwebs also signify the arrival of fall, one of the best times of the year to be outside. Watching the transition of the seasons and the response of our fellow earth-creatures, I somehow feel part of a community, all of whose members are preparing for the cooler months ahead.So try not to curse the sudden sticky surprise of an autumnal face-web. Be thankful that it means the end of tick and chigger season, and the approach of sweater weather. And perhaps even apologize to the spider for interrupting its fall project.