Nature Connection: Tangled Webs Of Connection

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond photo

My walks in the woods are getting pretty buggy. This is usually what stops me from my weekly forays into the woods that I love so much, and it always happens right about now. I tend to walk in areas that have water nearby so mosquitoes, deer flies, gnats and other bugs I can’t identify swarm around me as if greeting a long lost friend. To be honest, some days it gets to be too much.

I do use bug spray if I have to, but usually I decide against putting poison on my clothes and skin and I just leave the woods to them. The tiny caterpillars that land in my hair and crawl down my neck hours later, the ticks that climb up my socks, the mosquitoes that know the exact horrible places to bite that I can’t reach to slap them off; they win as summer draws nigh.

It’s the spider webs across the paths that are often the final straws, though. Spiders spin their webs across pathways because nature, like us, prefers an open travel lane. Insects fly along pathways and right into webs, providing spiders with tasty breakfasts. Unless I get there first, of course. As an early bird walker, I’m apparently one of the first of my height to walk through many of these paths. I get nailed in the face by more spider webs than I can count, and that’s even with me looking for them. Sometimes they are visible if the light is right but often the first sign of the delicate, nearly invisible web is that sticky silk stretched across my forehead, nose and mouth. If you’ve ever walked into a web you know the feeling. It’s not my favorite.

This week the woods are full of lady slippers and nesting birds. Leaves are filling in and soon all the lovely ephemeral flowers of spring will be distant memories. In sunny spots dragonflies and damselflies are sparkling in the light as their new wings dry and strengthen in the warmth. Funnel web spiders dot the forest floor with their solitary webs and pine pollen fills the air with a chalky, yellow coating that is both beautiful and sneeze inducing.

The woods are also full of orb spider webs of many sizes and shapes. Spider webs are amazing things, spun from silk the spider manufactures in its own body and woven into intricate designs by a creature many assume doesn’t have much brain power. Think about it, though. Could you create such a thing with no tools, using only your body in less than half a day? I’m guessing the answer would be no. I know mine would.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about webs and how they stick and stretch and hold us in place. We are all connected in one giant web of life, something some try to ignore, but that doesn’t make it less true.

There’s a game that we nature educators use with small children that is simple and effective. All it needs is a ball of string. We pass out cards to each child or give them a word to remember such as robin, tree, pond, worm, hawk. One child holds an end of the string and the ball is passed from one to another as they describe how they might be connected to each other. In the end there is a sort of messy web of string that is tangled a bit, but which shows the ways everything is connected, even when that connection isn’t obvious at first.

As the horrifying events of a senseless and brutal racially motivated death of a black man by a police officer have unraveled this past week I’ve been reminded of the many ways we are connected to each other, even those we don’t agree with, those we don’t understand or those who are different from us. Humans are part of a larger web but also smaller webs of community and family and friends. Sometimes it is easier to hide within a small web, like the funnel spider, instead of risking a bit of discomfort and even damage to our cherished belief systems as do the spiders that string their webs in scarier places in a bigger, wider world. Sometimes those small webs become exclusive, deliberately keeping others out.

As I left the woods the other morning after being bitten and buzzed at, I watched a spider run across a piece of silk at the top of its web. I’d been thinking a lot about the things that make us the same and the things we think make us different. I’m a white woman, a woman of privilege just by that definition. I live in a racially, ethnically diverse neighborhood where I see all sorts of racist actions play out daily. And yes, “driving while black” is sometimes a stoppable offense even here on Cape Cod, not just in the south. Ask your black and brown friends. It’s embarrassing and insulting for them.

This past week has made me clumsily attempt to walk in the shoes of some of my neighbors who have a different daily reality than I do. As I watched that little spider walk its own tightrope, I realized that if my biggest problems included being covered in spider web and mosquito bites because I chose to walk in the woods, I was pretty darned lucky. Walking a mile in my neighbor’s shoes will be a lot tougher. It is time to remember we are all connected, no matter what we look like on the outside. Expanding our webs is important and the only way to work things out together.