Of Spiders and Diamonds

Of Spiders and Diamonds

Web in Garden, Ranfurly

Fujifilm X-T1, 60/2.4R

ISO 200,1/55s@ f2.8



It appears to me that almost any man may like the spider spin from his own inwards his own airy citadel.

John Keats
Two things were becoming very clear to me, two things which told me it was autumn.

Firstly, it was dark at 0700 when I walked down the road for coffee.

The weather was still tripping me up. I would get up at 4am and step outside, to stand beneath the sweep and skirl of the night sky, to marvel at the ethereal and diaphanous scarf of the Milky Way draped across the night above me, to spend time in wonder and karakia. Then I would go back to bed. And when I arose, stumbling in the dark for my phone and half-asleep, they would have gone, obscured by the lazy, stumbling fog which had rolled in over the village and wrapped itself around the street lights and trees, reducing them to shadowy impressions. Impression of Morning Mist in Ranfurly. Maybe I could do a Monet with my camera. Of course I would wrap myself up warmly in fleece and merino to keep out the cold. By 11 am I would be rushing to change into lighter clothing as the sun pushed heat down through the murk and burned it off. I just didn’t seem to learn. Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness. Whatever.

Secondly, I also knew there were no whitetail spiders here in the village, well, not around my place at least. The small spider huddled up on the ceiling in my bathroom, which watched me every morning when I had a shower, told me that. Here there be no whitetails.

And in my garden the orb web spiders were going nuts. Webs were appearing on the fading rose bushes and their yellowing leaves, on the no name bush at the east end of my garden, and strung like glittering necklaces between any plant willing to host them. They wove conventional 2D gotcha nets, designed to stop a passing insect, so the spider could do a Hannibal Lecter and have it round for lunch. They must be doing OK. The large numbers of caddis flies roaming at night and the spent and desiccated carcasses littering the webs attested to that. Maybe the word had got round, and extras had crashed the party going on in my garden. I could almost imagine them chatting away as they sipped on a moth Margarita. Or maybe they were just tanking up, before the fog turned to ice and winter sent them into hibernation. There were so many possible narratives, and I wanted to enjoy them all.

I observed them and made a mental note to get out my camera. Then went back to the ennui of my daily life. Later that day, I was passing, they had disappeared. There was no sign of their intricate infinity on the rose bush. I cursed myself for being too self-absorbed to make the effort to get out my camera. Another opportunity which I had allowed to slide by. However they were back the next morning, as pristine and bejewelled as they had the day before. Tiny droplets of moisture hung like microscopic diamonds from the drooping mooring cables joining the branches together. Then I realised. The webs had never disappeared. It was simply that the heat of the sun had sucked the fragments of dew from them and that they had disappeared in the strong, pitiless light of day. They were still there, as purposeful and unrelenting as before, as ready to trap a passing insect as ever. I marvelled at the cunning of it. I resolved to make a picture the following day. Already the words were lining up in the back of had, eager to get out and be read.

In the half-light just after dawn I went up close and studied them. They seemed frozen in time and space. However, when I assembled my camera and studied them in the LCD, I could see that they were anything but calm and still. The breeze was subtle, so delicate that I really couldn’t feel it on my skin. And yet through my lens I could see these veins of light vibrating, shimmering softly in the faintly-turning air. They seemed to be breathing, a diaphanous diaphragm moving in and out. I was entranced.

However, the ones which really had my attention were the pyramids, the iridescent cone-shaped structures which formed around twigs and leaves, tiny fabrications of intent and purpose, whose form was a function of its angle to the light. Invisible guy ropes anchored them to the surrounding twigs and leaves. They were perfect without falling into the Slough of Symmetry. They were at once amorphous, at once symmetrical, visual oxymorons, conundrums in silk.

I know nothing about spiders, and stubbornly wanted to avoid reading the Gospel according to Wikipedia, which would glue the labels on firmly and quash my imaginary wanderings. So they enclosed, like the mosquito net around a baby’s cot. They seemed purposed to keep out rather than to invite in. Ah. Protection. Perhaps it was breeding season for the orbwebs.

I drew in close with my camera, examining them through the lens, noting the perfect placement of the imperfections. I wandered with my camera, lost in this intimate meditation until it was time to surface, to return to the world and the Labels of Necessity.

And the realisation that the act of photography is really a form of meditation, a glorious opportunity to step away from must and do, and to simply be.

6 Responses

  1. John C Smith says:

    Tony, your last sentence sums it all up for me – meditation, simply being – on your own, wrapped up in the photographic moment, oblivious to the surrounding world. J

  2. Brian Harmer says:

    That was a pure delight to read, Tony. I’ worried by the everyday ennui, however.

  3. Tuan says:

    Hope that every day photographic meditation will chase away the every day ennui for good 🙂 Aroha nui

  4. Tony Bridge says:

    As indeed it does…lost in a viewfinder…

  5. marty golin says:

    It strikes me that not only do spiders build “tiny fabrications of intent and purpose,” but it’s a wonderful phrase for the lives that we lead. & as tiny as we may be, we can shimmer in the dawn & the dew.

  6. Tony Bridge says:

    So true, Marty. Thank you.

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