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Grandmother Spider

October 30, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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Grandmother Spider has been busy. This is the season when I have to tell the pest control people NOT to sweep away the webs. Why? Not just because spiders take care of something like 200 trillion insect pests a year. But also because spiders and their webs are FASCINATING. There are more than 3000 different kinds of spiders found all over the world  – and stories about them as well.

One of my favorites, about Grandmother Spider, is a Choctaw tale. In the beginning, all life – animal, bird, insect, human – was encased in cocoons with their eyes shut. Finally, Creator took pity on them and sent someone down to free them. But the world around them was still dark and cold. Then, a voice from the dark described something called FIRE. After heated discussion, one creature after another volunteered to go and retrieve it: opossum, buzzard, crow; all failed. Finally, Grandmother Spider’s pleading (“I CAN do it!”) was heard and she was allowed go.

In the story, Grandmother Spider teaches the people about fire and how to make pottery. It is a classic tale about the small creature who wins out over the larger with courage, wit, and intelligence. It is also another example of the basic respect shown to all creatures by Native Americans and their amazing observational skills which enrich so many of their stories. Grandmother Spider has an honored role in stories of the Hopi, Osage, and Navajo people as well.

Early in the morning recently, I tried to take a picture of a web. It was dark and cold and the web hung, beautifully suspended between the outside wall and a shrub, the dew clinging to every thread. But I had a devil of a time trying to get the camera to “see” it. I tried all different angles. And as I did, I observed. There were an unbelievable number of drag-lines anchoring that web in dozens of places. The weaver was in residence, in the middle of the structure, not moving.

Spider silk – for it’s weight – is stronger than steel and waterproof. The ancient Chinese used spider silk for thread and, until recent times, it was used in laboratories in creating lab instruments and telescopes. One spider can make 100 yards of silk an hour.  It can also stretch for an unbelievable distance without snapping. Have you ever watched a web attached to a rear view mirror balloon out as the car picked up speed? Then, you understand.

A few years back, I walked into my dining room one morning and there – spanning a three foot long corner cupboard – was a spider web.  There is a whole plethora of folk beliefs about spiders. It was once believed that spiders could fly and their silk was used as medicine and a source of charms. Spiders can travel hundreds of miles. I remember just staring at that web. I almost hated to take it down.

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