Defying gravity the dot rested in mid air three feet from the grass under open sky. It did not hover nor waver. It did not move. It was alive. I had to bring my face to within a foot and then closer to configure it, to ‘see’ it — a tiny spider, shaped like half a throwing star with legs, a quarter the size of my thumbnail. It hung from one strand of silk. Its line stretched over and behind me a good twenty feet and then up and up to one branch of a maple forty feet above the ground. I blew softly upon it. The spider began to climb, its front legs flexing like wrists and taking in the silk very quickly — a foot every 45 seconds or so. This was the Arrow-shaped Micrathena, a common northeast species. They die with the first frost; their eggs overwinter attached by silk to a twig. They bite their prey, wait for the venom to liquify its core, then drain them. They are members of the orb weaver family. Their webs are symmetrical, beautiful creations.
Whether with the dogs or on my own, I try to be alert to what might appear. I scrabble the dirt, look to the high branches of trees, scan the horizon line. I pick up bones, furred remains, shells, snake skins, stones, skulls, old nests, seeds, the dried husks of insects and the poor bodies of dead birds, and will break apart dried scat and examine it with a magnifying glass. I listen for bird song, and when they show themselves mark their flight pattern and the direction they take away from me. I wait on insects.
Out there I escape the virtual world and its interminable flood of words and images, its messages, voices, distractions — its false urgencies. I escape what Richard Forty called the “consolation of metaphor”* and instead of analyzing, I try just to see clearly, to look closely, to follow the commands of my senses and touch and handle solid things whose textures and smells moor me to the present moment. Out there, I try to see what is in front of me and pay less attention to what is in my head.
*from Life by Richard Forty
web of the Arrow-shaped Micrathena
the phalanges and fur of a mole