A spider stick is any handy light branch or stem which you have stripped of its leaves and twigs, cut to three feet or so and placed by the door. You will need it for the next few weeks while the spiders bring us news that the season has changed. Calendar makers and meteorologists have their own ideas, but when I see the lightest of web cups appear in the shrubs and walk through a gossamer guywire strung across my path I begin to carry my spider stick on meanders through the garden or walks in the woods. I progress rhythmically waving my stick vertically, like a religious officiant, up and down, up and down, to clear the guywires before they catch in my eyelashes or hair and perhaps bring a spider with them. Soon the big spiders with the large, traditionally designed webs will be appearing, I call them the Tweed Suit Boys, and marvel at the pattern on their bodies, surely woven on the Shetland Isles. It is a joy of the season to be up early, with the dew, and see all the overnight creations lit, as if with by the low morning sun.
So, I have heard the message, it is time to rest from summer’s frenzy and wonder at the immensity of nature moving on. I had been deadheading my summer annuals to extend the bloom but one morning they yelled at me “Leave us alone! We want to make seed.” I was startled, of course, but immediately saw that my puny clipping efforts would never keep up with the avalanche of seed forming, ready to cast itself on waiting ground or to the winds. All to survive another year.
Everything is changing, crisping up brown, taking on rosy tones, sprawling in fatigue, rapidly pushing out those last beans, strawberries, seed pods and figs. Ready to go to sleep in order to survive another year.
The air smells different, the light slants and declines. Various birds come and go, still using the available baths, but carrying a shopping list of bug and seed delicacies available only now. Their aim: to head south or huddle in suitable quarters to survive another year.
My mind goes also to the ancestors, living more like bugs or birds or mice or deer, asking one another “Are you ready for winter?” Singing to their babies:
Bye-bye baby bunting
Daddy’s gone a-hunting
To fetch a little rabbit skin
To wrap his baby bunting in.
Storing squash, apples, firewood, honey and wine. Caulking the cracks in the house, racking fodder for the animals, stuffing quilts and knitting stockings. All to survive for another year.
In my own time winter is more of an inconvenience than a survival story. One can gas up the rig and head for Arizona or the airport. I live in the pressure of a digital world, the knowing-too-much, the insanity and confusion of complex systems run amok. I want it to slow down, I want some rituals of storage, of feeling the threat, of preparation. I want to get ready, to imagine that in my power, to survive another year.
Photos by Wendy Feltham