Caught in the web


Hiking through clouds presents challenges.


First, the blanket of mist limits visibility. Expansive vistas and sweeping panoramas become swathed in wads of gray. I’d come to the Great North Mountain Trail hoping to see West Virginia over one shoulder and Virginia over the other, but not on this day.


Second, everything’s wet. I don’t mind moisture in moderation. But when storm debris still litters the back yard at home and the carpets have that funky smell of ripening mold – an insult on top of summer-long sogginess – you hope to be hiking in the high and dry.


What’s that line, though, about making lemonade from lemons?


If you can’t see far, look close. And if life hands you mist, look for the mystical.


With that in mind, my trek turned from a disappointment into a revelation.


Moss became an emerald carpet. Trees waved the first flags of autumn color – red tinges on dogwood and maple, yellow swatches on poplars, all the brighter against the drab background.


And the spider webs!


Lace pendants bejeweled with beads of water. Patterns of exquisite delicacy and endless variety, like huge snowflakes hung in midair.


The more I looked, the more I saw – dozens, hundreds, thousands spread along the trail. And for every geometrically precise showcase of spidery engineering, there was a nest of gossamer chaos.


Here and there, the architect was home, none more prominent than the black-and-yellow garden spider as big as my thumb squatting at the center of his/her web. Its spindly legs and black mask thorax invited all kinds of evil associations, and I thought of how as a child my skin would crawl at the thought of spiders.


Not so now. Its markings were no more sinister than a goldfinch’s and equally absorbing. Argiope aurantia (if I am to trust the Web – World Wide, that is) is also known as the “writing” spider because it usually leaves a line of white X’s down the center of the web. Mine must have been taking a break in mid-construction or been illiterate because there was no evidence of scribbling.


Long I wandered along the ridge, lost in a cocoon of mist and silk and lucky I didn’t twist an ankle on the slick rocks and steep grades. Much of the time I spent peering through a camera lens, hoping to record and share some of this wonderland.


Getting a good shot sometimes took some doing, and as careful as I tried to be, I knew some spiders’ hard work was trampled underfoot or shredded to tatters.


Then a thought made me smile.


Spiders’ webs are a renewable resource.


Just like mountain views.

Spider web photos:



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