Every year, here at Meadow Knoll, just outside the kitchen door, a writing spider (a golden silk orb spider) sets up shop and begins to spin. I can't prove it, but since the webs are always in the same place, I suspect that the spider is the daughter of the spider who lived and spun her web in that place the year before. I love watching her spin. I particularly like the decorative ZZZ zigzags in the middle of her web, which are designed (so say spider researchers) to stabilize the thing so it doesn't tear to pieces when a large and unruly lunch lands in the middle of it. It's those zigzag filaments that have given her the name of "writing spider."
I have a different name for this spider. I call her Penelope, in honor of the wife of Odysseus, who--to deflect ambitious suitors--spun (and unraveled) a shroud for her absent husband, promising to remarry only when she finished her weaving. A master spinner, deft and quick, my Penelope has woven a web of an impressive size: some three feet by three feet. (And yes, this is definitely girl power: only the females spin webs.) Her web is designed to catch flying insects (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). I've read that to make this masterpiece, Penelope has spun a non-sticky thread into the breeze: when the end snags on a branch or leaf, she walks carefully along it, spinning another but stronger non-sticky thread, then--at an angle--another, until she's constructed a large frame, within which she goes to work, weaving. As a weaver, Penelope is good. She is very, very good.
In fact, the spider silk the golden orb spins has become a prized item. Recently, the Museum of Natural History in New York City put on display a rare piece of silk weaving, produced by these spiders--with a little help from humans.
According to an article in Wired Science: "To produce this unique golden cloth, 70 people spent four years collecting golden orb spiders from telephone poles in Madagascar [the golden orb spiders there are known for the rich golden color of their silk], while another dozen workers carefully extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids. The resulting 11-foot by 4-foot textile is the only large piece of cloth made from natural spider silk existing in the world today." The extraction process didn't injure the spiders, who were released back into the wild. (Imagine the stories they spun for their spider friends when they got home!)
Book report. Spinning my own stories here. I finished Loving Eleanor this week--more or less: I'll probably still tinker with it. It goes to my copy editor in early August and will come back to me in September. Expecting to have review copies ready by mid-October (publication date: February 8, 2016). I've been working with a cover designer (the one who did the cover for the Lake Union edition of A Wilder Rose)--hope to have a cover for you to peek at in another week or two. Next on the writing desk: the memoir I've been working on with my brother John.
Garden report. I'm inundated by a tsunami of tomatoes: making gallons of tomato sauce for the freezer. Squash by the bushel (and you can eat only so much squash), okra too; watermelons and cantaloupes, coming soon. It's been a banner year for the spring garden. But a bunny ate the tops off my sweet potato plants, so unless they come back from the root, there won't be any sweets this fall. Gardening in a world of deer and rabbits: always a dicey business.
Reading note. Spiders are anti-social, keep pests under control, and mostly mind their own business, but they somehow summon fear in humans who are far more dangerous, deceitful and have hurt more people. Of the two I'm more suspicious about the latter.--Donna Lynn Hope