Mindful, no doubt, of the late-October-ness of the season, the neighborhood Arachnes conspired together to festoon the world with webbery. A dense fog conspired with them to make ropes and nets of diamonds, which a persistent sun revealed on my morning walk yesterday.
In the Maine Maritime Museum, we looked at a tiny model of a rope-making shed. A ship needed miles and miles of ropes for its rigging and who knows what else. In a long building, rope makers twisted the fibers out and out, stringing them back and forth. I imagined the roughness of those hands, stringing out hemp into twists as thick as my arms, the tedium of it, and also the satisfaction of the splendid long coils: to look up at a six-masted schooner and know that your hours, your calluses went into its webbing — that would be something.
The spiders have no hands to callous at their work, but, in proportion to their bodies, many string more than miles of web: there are the traditional spiral webs, with their weavers steadfastly central; there are webs like mesh bags hanging in the trees, with the spider below the bag; there are funnel webs, like blankets spread on the ground, the spider discreetly peeping from its tunnel. Does a spider have satisfaction, finishing a web? Does it turn its several beady eyes upon the work and declare “It is good”?
Greek mythology makes spiders not weavers of rope but weavers of tapestry. Arachne, a mortal weaver whose work rivalled the gods’, was made a spider by the jealousy of Minerva. As a child, I wove pot-holders on little plastic looms, imagined weaving fabric one day. But to weave a tapestry? To combine ornate threads and make images of people and animals and who knew what else? I never supposed that I could do that.
Funny then, that writing is compared so often to weaving. The Lady of Shalott, weaving beside her tower mirror becomes the figure of the writer: isolated, observing life, but only preserved from death by her distance from life. I don’t want to live alone with a mirror.
Fortunately living also has been compared to weaving. King Hezekiah makes the comparison, praying after being preserved from death:
As a weaver I rolled up my life.
He cuts me off from the loom;
From day until night Thou dost make an end of me.*
Hezekiah was given his life back, allowed more length of weaving. He did not die. Not then. The image of being brought to an end day and night: that image makes me think of life in Christ, of the call to lose our lives, to lay them down, to live upon the loom always ready to roll up the weaving, always willing to be cut off.
I think of the spiders. Some of their webs last their whole life-time, but others weave a new web every night. I would grow angry at the constant destruction, the constant need to rebuild. (I do grow angry.) But they simply build and rebuild and rebuild. Because they are designed to do just that; that is their identity. Perhaps my identity is not so different from theirs.
The rope makers, who walked back and forth in the rope shed, must have felt their jobs were futile sometimes, must have wondered what was the point of the endless tread. They did not design the ships; their orders were for ropes alone, not for the ropes’ future purposes. So perhaps, one day, when I think I’ve been cut off at the loom, I’ll look up and see the webs of rigging on a six-masted schooner, or even, just perhaps, ropes and nets of diamonds.