I used to think cobwebs were just dust — tiny motes somehow cohered linear, spanning wall to window sill, crown molding to light fixture. For more than a quarter century, I thought this. I am 29, and I estimate that it was only in the last six to eight months that I realized cobwebs are not just dust, they are tales of lives lived, webs robbed of their adhesive and reason to be, abandoned for some other sill or brighter light fixtures and who could say why? Yes, there’s dust involved, but dust is involved in everything. Dust wins, eventually. Inexorable dust.
But as I say it was only in the last six months or so that I realized cobwebs are greater than dust. As I say, I now see cobwebs as stories, though they are mostly stories I figure I can’t understand all the way. I’m not going to go anthropomorphizing some spider, here, and tell about how it wasn’t content in its corner in the attic and went onto bigger things. Who knows what spiders are thinking?
I will tell you, though, about my shower. It is in the lower-floor bathroom, one of those showers set in a clawfoot tub with a curtain all around. An older shower with an antiquated charm, I like to think. All of which means when you’re scrubbing and thinking and just in general enjoying the hard, hot spray, one of the places your eyes get drawn is the ceiling. I very frequently am looking up in the shower. Not that the ceiling is all that interesting compared to the creamy, slightly mildewy expanse of plastic curtain all around, it’s just my nature. And late last year, for what I would say was over a week — maybe closer to two — there was a spider up there.
In Oregon, the spiders are mostly fat and black. Even the ones in your house are big. You deal with it. But this one was different — small and very light brown, almost transparent, with very long, very spindly legs. It was non-threatening in appearance compared to the fat black ones, so I let it be. I saw no purpose in splashing it or spitting a hard, focused jet of water to dislodge it from the corner. I just watched. Once or twice I blew air at it so see if it moved. It did.
But I also wondered, all this time, about the small spider’s prospects in that particular expanse of wall and ceiling. I’ve no notion what a spider like that eats, but it would have to be tiny and I imagine it would have to be an insect of sorts, and I just didn’t see this being a high-traffic area for insects. Quite possibly I’m deluded as to the cleanliness of my home.
Anyway, I showered and watched as the days progressed and still the spider sat, occasionally moving until the day it didn’t. One day he was simply dead. And, again, without anthropomorphizing here or trying to be cheesy, I will relate to you that I very seriously considered this a metaphor for life, and for my current existence. Probably everyone’s.
Another thing about cobwebs I find intriguing is they’re never actually webs. The structure has broken down over weeks and months, and there is always just one stalwart strand remaining. One remnant of a past life so lovingly crafted it refuses to abate, even when abandoned.