#64: The Virtue of a Spider

Wolf spider trapped under glass.
Palenville, NY

It’s my last weekend at the yurt until autumn. I was making the bed one morning and I found, lurking wallside, this, a wolf spider, of indeterminate sex. It is the largest spider I have seen in person without the separation of terrarium glass.

There are a few critters that find their way indoors from the woods, and save for the occasional territorial conflict we peacefully co-inhabit the yurt. I glimpse my yurtmates going about their business and cannot help but see their human virtues and iniquities, as one does with spirit animals, or in this case, spirit insects. The ants, black, large, sometimes winged, bumble around as though they are drunk, or indecisive, always going back on their steps. A friend said, of bees, that one must think of the hive as a single organism. The same is true with ants, whose sense organ operatives are scattered far and wide. Right when I am about to crush a single ant with my thumb I say, “Sorry dude,” perhaps in fear of some retribution from the larger ants-being.

And there are the flies, whom I’ve written about, vagabonding from shitpile to shitpile with less concern than Jack Kerouac. And the mosquitos, whose needling persistence is proof that size does not matter. “If you think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito,” says the Dalai Lama. Or maybe Bette Reese.

What, then, is the virtue of the spider, this ally in my war against flies? Patience, for one, in the daily task of weaving and improving upon its web. Concentric symmetry comes to mind but asymmetry demands greater knowledge of the terrain. I have seen webs of meter-long trip wires, knotted with the corpses of moths. I have seen webs thick as gauze, silk seemingly vomited instead of spun. I watch a five-legged daddy longlegs dragging its limp longest limb, feeling tentatively ahead with the others for stability. The cause of its injury is unclear. Old age? A scuffle with a beetle? Or the cruelty of pre-pubescent boys? The daddy longlegs stops, suddenly paralyzed. Have I just witnessed the death of a spider? I have not. Minutes later it is moving again. Its battery is recharged, but with what? Stillness, perhaps, which for the spider is like sun for the butterfly with heavy wings. And stillness and patience – these are the qualities of solitude.

Solitude. The spider’s web is both a place of rest and the bringer of food. It is completeness unto itself. The spider need not seek anything external; it creates its wholeness and sustenance arrives. But is not the spider’s home so easily swiffered away, or dismantled by a door, opening? Not any more permanent than our own, I suppose. And for the spider there are no pieces to reassemble, for all it needs is contained within. There is no metamorphosis, no cocoon, the spider is already complete. It begins to weave a new solitude.

The spider under my glass, however, does not spin webs. It finds shelter under logs and sometimes IKEA beds and uses camouflage to hunt its prey. But patience and stillness are as important for the wolf spider as any other. And I must remember: solitude is not loneliness. Loneliness is the opposite. Loneliness is impatience and crackling anxiety. I must also remember that solitude requires one additional thing: space. Which will be harder to find when I am back in the city. Which the wolf spider underneath my glass does not have. By keeping it there, I am depriving it of its spiderness.

So I take it outside. I release it into the woods to find a log under which to make its bed, and I come back inside and finish making mine.