Grist to the Mill

18 July, 2004


Outside my second-floor window there's a tall streetlamp. It's an older style of lamp - the bulb has a yellow rather than bright white bulb and the curve of the lamp's neck is graceful with no hard angles. By my reckoning it stands more than 20 feet tall, which makes it proportionate to the three-storey boarding house where I'm staying. I've peered from the window of this building for the last few evenings - usually late at night - and something's caught my attention.

Imagine an inverted capital 'L' shape for the lamppost. Hanging from the angle of the 'L' is a magnificent, enormous spider's web. It's vast - like a fishing net - and it's only visible after dark. If it were hanging anywhere else it'd be invisible, but the light from the streetlamp illuminates it beautifully. I'm puzzled by it. A spider constructing a web in the angle of a streetlamp seems akin to people establishing settlements next to rivers. How resourceful the spider must be to exploit its environment in this way! It must be an exceptionally well-nourished spider, but how did it know? I've been indulging a notion of spiders as logical creaturs, speculating along the lines of "I like flies, flies like light, therefore it follows that...'

Each evening I spend a few minutes watching the July insects heading faithfully for the streetlamp's bulb. They're as reliable as mass obeying laws of motion. How do spiders know this would make a good spot? They must also be attuned to light, and, sensing it, shin up the lamppost towards the source. But they cannot be somehow 'aware' that lights are a favourite haunt of moths and insects.

Nonetheless, the web exists and is extensive. At night, by lamplight, it is studded with raindrops. The wind sometimes buffets the spider's web back and forth, but the web is built to withstand wind and moves only slightly to-and-fro. This lends it the illusion of weight, and the very gentle swaying makes me think of heavy, silver chainmail.

My window is almost level with the top of the streetlamp, otherwise I would never have noticed. I'm wondering now whether this is a typical location for spiders webs. Perhaps its a well-known phenomena that I've previously failed to observe, or was this particular spider unusually fortunate in locating its home?

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