It came in the guise of the simplest and most complex of earthly perfections.
On our first night home after a fine trip to London, the five-hour time change disoriented me. I awoke at 2 a.m. wondering: what country is this, what city, what bed? I struggled to pull my world into focus, saw where I was, then willed myself back to sleep for a couple more hours, waking again to the first light of morning.
The sky was interestingly muted by fog as the view from my window came softly alive. Soon, the mornings would be too cold to walk up onto the deck barefoot, but I did that now, the cool dew sensuous against the bottoms of my feet, the imprints of my heels and toes following behind me.
As I rounded the corner, I was stunned by the appearance of the largest spider web I had ever seen. Anchored between the eaves of the roof and the deck floor, its shape clearly visible as the moisture in the air clung to every delicate strand, the web-proper measured 21 inches in diameter, and the several strands anchoring it securely to the floor, another 26.
My layman’s observation — and surely that of any 5-year-old — is that all spiders adhere to the same pattern when constructing their webs. But as with all creatures and even plants, some are better at their jobs than others — more careful, more exquisitely discerning of how their end product will serve them, how it might appear to their cronies, or regarded by Mother Nature.
The architect of this particular web was a master craftsman, and had it not been for the fog-producing dew, I might not have even noticed this masterpiece. The dazzling, perfectly spaced strands appeared suspended in the air, their pattern of arcs growing as each concentric magical ring expanded.
When I was in Rome, I counted the Spanish Steps each time we traversed them; when on the Amalfi Coast, I counted the 423 rough hewn volcanic steps that led from the hotel to the little crescent beach of coarse black sand below.
Suffice it to say, I lowered myself to the wet floor of the deck to count the rings of the spider’s web. This was not an easy task since I couldn’t touch it, and also, it gyrated slightly in the breeze. It took several attempts to confirm there were 24, a number necessary to pay accurate homage to the absent creature’s Herculean efforts.
The mere fact that a spider can spin a web at all is utterly amazing. I have witnessed the actual creation of one only twice in my life, and was myself in a spin to realize how quickly it formed.
It was years ago, in the reading Iris Murdoch’s brilliant novel, “Bruno’s Dream,” that my fascination with spiders was awakened.
As an old man near to death dwelling upon the regrets of his life, Bruno counts among them his resentment of a father who insisted he join the family print business when, instead, he yearned only to study spiders. “Spiders, spiders, spiders, those aristocrats of the creepy-crawly world; he never ceased to love them.”
“Web site, World Wide Web, Internet?”
Did the innovators of our now-so-electronic world pair this nomenclature to the mystery of a spider’s web?
Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.