Saturday, September 18, 2010

`Out of Disorder They Evolve Order'

We lost count of spiders and webs. The first of the morning – web, that is – wrapped across my face as I carried out the trash. We limboed under another slung between my car and a shrub. Dewy and struck by shafts of low morning sun they glistened in trees twenty feet off the ground and among the power lines. In a fat azalea next to my second-grader’s bus stop we logged dozens, waiting motionless at the centers of their concentric webs.

Orb-weavers assembling new webs are as reliable a herald of autumn as wooly bears and honking geese. Even arachnophobes ought to be impressed by the elegance of the architecture. The great Fabre writes in “A Builder of Webs” (The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre, 1949):

“Now which of us would undertake, off-hand, without much preliminary experiment and without measuring instruments, to divide a circle into a given quantity of equal width? [Orb-weavers]…though tottering on threads shaken by the wind, effect the delicate division without stopping to think. They achieve it by a method which seems mad according to our notions of geometry. Out of disorder they evolve order.”

There is madness or at least a furious rationality in the fall. Spring is tame and incremental in comparison. Spiders must feed to spawn another generation of their kind. They will die soon. Already the mornings are cool and damp and the spiders appear torpid until the next meal arrives. They live furiously in preparation for death, and they’re not alone. Think of the final stanzas of Adam Kirsch’s “Arcadia (Autumn)” (The Thousand Wells, 2002):

“Nothing this morning more incredible
Than the one fact in which we must believe,
That everything human and celestial
Moves only in a limited reprieve

“From the common sentence; as the stars above
Totter in turn and fall, so here below
This pageantry of nature and of love
Lives in its dying. May its death be slow.”

1 comment:

William A. Sigler said...

Wow, yesterday the joyous transcendence of birth, today, in the dismal tones Kerouac might have used in his Buddhist stage, one is born to die. I like the idea of fall as a time in which one hurries up to expire, and it is exemplified by the industrious spider, holding onto the warmth of blood so that it can continue flowing.

American Indian lore has the spider as symbolic writer or storyteller, the creature who taught us with her web how to create an alphabet. Writers less tormented than David Foster Wallace do seem driven to get it all down before the bell sounds, imagining how a shadow half-light will keep the web itself alive and connected to the memories in attics.

But the eight-legged spider, with its very shape the number eight double helix of infinity, also symbolizes:

“the web of fate for those who get caught…in the web of illusion in the physical world, and never see beyond the horizon into the other dimensions… [If a spider and its medicine comes into your life, the message is] that you are an infinite being who will continue to weave the patterns of life and living throughout time. Do not fail to see the expansiveness of the eternal plan.” (from Medicine Cards, Sams and Carson)

Having grown up next to Salem, Massachusetts, where the pagans have taken over in much the same way the Indians have taken over London, this has a particular resonance for me, as I once again start to see spiders again in my life after four years of spider-free desert living and ten years in the South where spiders the size of tarantulas could actually paralyze you with their bite.

I see that sense of the spider's expansiveness in the quote from Adam Kirsch, a humorous chiding to the acolytes of the Materialist god who would have us believe the stars themselves are on borrowed time—how “incredible” and unbelievable one should think that that’s the way things really are.

I think this is something of what Whitman had in mind when he wrote:

“A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.”