Marbled orbweaver

The clouds came in just as the earth’s shadow began its slow crawl across the moon. It was, I think, what they call a mackerel sky: high cumulo-nimbus clouds arranged like the scales on the belly of a fish. Every few minutes the moon would reappear in a crack between the clouds, and each time more of it would be gone.

More and more of the sky became occluded by clouds. By 10:20, when the eclipse reached totality, very few cracks still showed. Rather than abandon hope, though, I left my front porch, where I had been watching the show through the newly bare leaves of an elm, and went up in the field for an unobstructed view. The air was cold, but the ground retained some of the heat of the day; the longer I lay in the grass, the warmer it seemed. I watched as the cracks between the clouds grew larger and larger. Mackerel skies move with excruciating slowness. Above and to the west, the bands of stars grew larger.

At last, around eleven o’clock, the clouds thinned out enough to allow an unobstructed view of the eclipsed moon. Blood moon, some call it, and indeed, one does get the impression that one is seeing somehow inside it, as if with the x-ray vision of an ultrasound machine. What might this view of celestial entrails tell us? I thought of all the people around the hemisphere who must have been watching along with me, the myriad interpretations they would bring to this sight. How many otherwise ordinary life events would gain in significance merely by their conjunction with such an event?

For Red Sox fans, the symbolism of a baseball-white moon approximating their team colors on the very night they stormed to an historic World Series victory couldn’t be clearer. For them, the supposed maleficent aspect of the blood moon would seem like a blessing, for it always takes something like a curse to counter a curse. More political minded folks might prefer not to dwell on portents, and just enjoy the show. Who needs another baleful Mars!

Thinking about team colors, though, reminded me of the trite and obnoxious bumper sticker one often sees around Pennsylvania: “If God isn’t a Penn State fan, why is the sky blue and white?” It’s doubly obnoxious, I thought, because look at what Penn State has done to the dark night skies of my childhood! Due in part to the university’s strong, consistent support for I-99 – a highway designed to funnel traffic more quickly to Penn State football games – the sky to the northwest and southeast is ablaze with reflected light from several nearby freeway exits. The northeast portion of the sky harbors a dome of yellow light from the limestone quarry two miles away. This quarry now runs day and night to supply rock for the final sections of I-99, under construction north of here in a series of monstrous gashes along the crest of this same, poor ridge. Now these gashes have begun to bleed acid discharge into two watersheds, poisoning wells and killing wild trout. And last night, as on most other nights, the incessant beeping of quarry trucks marred what would otherwise be an otherworldly stillness. Fuck you, Penn State.

By 11:00, though, the din died down – only to resume again at 5:00 this morning. I sat out on the porch with my coffee a little past six, bathing in the light of the now-recovered moon – so bright it almost hurt to look. My last sight of the lunar eclipse before I went off to bed at 11:11 prompted this memo in my pocket notebook: “It makes me hungry!” I don’t believe I was consciously thinking salmon, peach, just feeling an unfocused but powerful longing to reach up and pull this strange circle down to my mouth. Now, as I write, I’m imagining it cold but sweet, and as prone to melt as ice cream in a cone. It’s not a bad thing for the pure and the aloof once in a while to take on an earthly stain.

Yesterday morning I found a female marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) spider dangling in the middle of the old, moss-covered woods road near the top of the field. Unlike many in her species who tend more toward yellow, hers was an abdomen that glowed a fervid orange. She had just completed the first, trail-spanning support strands preparatory to the real spinning, which would take place later in the day, if this source on the World Wide Web is to be believed:

[Marbled orbweaver] spiders build their web at dusk and either wait in the web or in a retreat near the web at night for prey to strike the web. Then the spider runs out and wraps the prey in silk. After the prey is immobilized, the prey is bitten and eventually eaten. Some individuals stay in their webs during the day, but this is not common. They typically rebuild their web each day, or at least the sticky spiral orb part.

Unfortunately, she had picked one of our most well traveled walking trails, used particularly heavily this time of year as the pace of the deer hunt picks up. I thought it would be a good idea to try and move her off the trail – discourage her now, if that were possible, rather than later. I broke the silk and swung her off to the side of the trail. She rappelled to the ground and crouched motionless, head and thorax tucked out of side beneath her huge abdomen. From a couple feet away, the spider looked like some kind of large, exotic seed lying among the equally bright fallen leaves. I crouched down to admire the filigreed pattern, which resembled nothing so much as a five-storied pagoda.

Normally I keep a respectful distance from spiders, but I couldn’t resist running one pinky gently over the surface of the abdomen. It felt deliciously smooth, even – what else? – silky.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Dave, you need a woman! But would you say that if I were a Red Sox fan, kneeling in the middle of a street in Boston with tears streaming down my face, thanksgiving on my lips? Satisfaction can take countless forms. Me, all I really want now is a bite of moon. Just one nibble! Then I’ll be happy, and the forces of evil can go ahead and swallow the rest of my sky.

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