Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tracks: Arachnid Housewifery and A Sad Postscript

Last evening, Maclovio took me for my accustomed walk around the top of the mountain. The summer dust was full of animal tracks, especially the tiny paw prints of squirrels, who clearly had been racing up and down the shoulder of the road all day, gathering the black oak acorns that are falling now. Mixed with these were the heart-shaped hoof prints of deer, the branching trident of wild turkeys, the child’s handprint of a raccoon, the tiny calligraphy of beetles and a few undulant lines where snakes had made a crossing.

When I see tracks that cross the road like that, I always glance to see if the transit is still in progress. That way, I have learned over the years just who makes what kind of tracks. It also keeps me from blundering onto a rattlesnake intent on crossing the road.

So it was business as usual, when I saw a small track in the dust that looked, at first glance, like a small lizard print. There was a dragged line about the size the eraser of a pencil would make if it traced a line in the dirt, which I took for the print of the tail of a lizard. On either side of this were delicate hatch marks about two inches long, which I assumed to be made by the reptile’s claws.

Taking my usual glance along the trajectory of the track, however, I noticed that it ended, mid-passage, and at its end was a small wad of something. I hurried over and bent close to discover, instead of the ball of plant matter I had expected, a large spider, her legs crumpled, tilted sideways like a wrecked and partially overturned car, and apparently lifeless.

I examined her carefully. Her abdomen was patterned in brown and cream and was extremely extended—so much so that it was what had made the dragged line in the dirt. Her legs were stout and covered in black bristles. In all, if she were alive and her legs splayed, she might easily have reached the edges of a fifty-cent piece. I could find no cause for her demise. I wondered if Maclovio might have trampled her, but could find no dog tracks near her. With a dry pine needle I gingerly lifted her, to see if I could stimulate a response, but she remained inert.

I was fascinated by her tracks in the dust and studied them carefully. I could not recall ever having seen any quite like them. Or perhaps, I reasoned, I had seen them and assumed they were made by a lizard. The dragging abdomen seemed to indicate she might be gravid and on her way somewhere to deposit her eggs when she was taken by whatever malady or accident overtook her.

I went on my way sadly, for I felt that she was a special creature and that she had met with an unhappy fate undeservedly. All the way along our usual track around the mountain top, I pondered her, her delicate calligraphy in the dust and her unusual fate. By the time Maclovio and I turned homeward, I had decided that I must at least remove her from the road. It was simply too ignominious an end for her to be pulverized by a passing car.

When we got back to the area, I began scanning the road for the little crumpled heap, but couldn’t spot it. I found her track, finally, and following it with my eyes, saw to my amazement that it was complete. The spider was nowhere in evidence but the evidence of her accomplished crossing was clear.

It’s hard to say why this gave me such joy. Generally I’m no great fan of spiders, although I’ve made my peace with them and certainly never kill them. But this spider, with her burden of incipient babies, had touched my heart. There was something valiant in her interrupted crossing, like a pioneer mother dragging herself across a desert toward safe harbor.

I searched the opposite shoulder but it was deeply littered in leaves and pine needles and so I could see no sign of where she had gone. Until, that is, I spotted a small hole in the road bank, about two feet above road grade and about the size of the end of my finger. I drew closer and discovered that a spurt of fresh red soil had been excavated from the hole and spilled down the bank. Bringing my eye right to the entrance to this tiny tunnel, I spotted two of the hairy legs of my spider, now happily rooting out more dirt from her abode.

Homemaking and housekeeping are two things that almost any woman, the world over, can relate to. Especially when it involves nest-building to accommodate new life. I went my way toward home, rejoicing for my little friend that she had found safe harbor for her brood and happy that my tiny boost with a pine needle might have been just the prod she needed to arouse her will to carry on. I have done the same for many women, over the years, and they have done it for me. I see no reason why an arachnid should be excluded from the commune of women.

I wrote the above the morning after that encounter. Last evening, again on my walk, I was eager to check on the progress of my arachnid friend’s housewifery. But when I got to the spot and scanned the bank, I could see no evidence of her little tunnel. Confused, I redoubled my search but to no avail. At last, standing back from the road bank and getting the larger picture, in a flash of insight I understood what had happened. Arcing through the slanting red dirt of the bank was a single tire track, probably from a motorcycle. Some daredevil had challenged himself to mount the almost vertical bank and, in doing so, had demolished the spider’s abode.

With a fingertip, I brushed away the loose dirt of the tire track, hoping to find her tunnel blocked but intact. I could find no sign of it, however. It was apparently completely sheared off and crumbled to dust. And I suddenly thought of the Palestinian women in Commune of Women and of the real women they represent, worldwide, who struggle to make homes under brutal circumstances and whose efforts are so often destroyed by the carelessness or, worse, the calculated violence of war. My heart was filled with anguish and I asked, as I have so many times in my life, when will it be enough? When will it ever be enough? When will we have our fill of war and destruction, at last, so that all the mothers of the world, no matter their nationality, race or even species, can live and birth and rear their young in peace?

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