Thursday, September 24, 2009

Under the Rainbow

Gossamer. I was driving eastward on Cruzon Grade in Nevada County, facing the morning sun. It must have been in the fall. As I understand it, that's Gossamer Season.

Gossamer, as in gossamer wings or the fabric of Lady Caro Lamb's dresses, has the reputation of being sheer, elegant and flimsy. Sheer and elegant to be sure, but never flimsy. Gossamer is spider web and there is no natural substance with a greater tensile strength.

There comes a time in every young spider's life when he has a choice. Leave home or become dinner for mama. (This is a choice she spiders must make, also, since mama is an equal opportunity diner.) The young spiders seek out the highest point they can find, even if it's only on top of a flower or a blade of grass. Then he squirts out some streams of silk from some of his spinnerettes, and they harden as soon as they are exposed to air. The strands become “wings” to carry the baby spiders away from their ravenous mothers.

The young Cruzon Grade spiders are fortunate because they don't have to launch themselves from flowers or grass blades. They have cedars 60-, 70-, 80-, 100-feet tall, all an escaping baby spider could wish for. A couple of squirts, and they're aloft, going wherever the wind takes them. (They don't have much control over where they go, and I imagine some of them end up in the middle of a river or a lake.)

On this particular day there were thousands of those little guys making an arachnid exodus. The breeze was just enough to keep them aloft, but not enough to take them anywhere. The morning sun shone through the silk shrouds and acted as a crystal. The light rays separated and the spider silks became a curtain of shimmering rainbow colors.

And so I found what was at the end of the rainbow. Well, under the rainbow. Thousands of spiders. Who knew.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Showing Class

North San Juan, California, 1980s.

Of all the vegetables in our garden, we were proudest of our tomatoes, which grew in columns seven feet tall made of construction wire, the heavy gauge stuff with the six inch squares. The Sweet One Hundreds seldom got to three feet, but sometimes the Early Girls and the Early Boys made it all the way to the top.

We loved our tomatoes, but so did the horn worms. We usually treated the annual horn worm infestation with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and, at need, hand picked them. I found hand picking difficult because the worms were so exactly the color of the plant they were devouring that I couldn't see one unless I got it stuck up my nose.

One fine day I found a horn worm right in front of me, practically begging, “Please pick me and feed me to your chickens.” He was the biggest horn worm I have ever seen, He would have been Mothzilla if I hadn't picked him.

I threw him into the chicken pen and a big red hen rushed up to eat him. But the worm reared up and clacked! I didn't know they could make a sound, but this guy did. He made himself as big and as loud as he could. The chicken slammed on her binders and retreated momentarily.

But she recovered her composure and ate the horn worm. The worm had no chance, but he gave it his very best shot. I learned something from that. Even when all is lost, when your cause is hopeless, when you have no chance in Heaven or Hell, you can still go out with style.

You can always show class. Even if you're only a worm.