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Red Willow Spirit: Weaving Autumn Magic

Black Widow 4 Resized

These are days of magic and mystery.

Snow yesterday, highs that never got out of the forties, plunging overnight to lows in the teens; today, the electric sun and highs halfway to sixty, the sky impossibly blue and the treetops just as impossibly gold against it. October’s light is magic, and so is the clarity of its air, and we are now firmly within the embrace of its ethereal, mysterious beauty.

Spirits of all sorts conspire to bring us the gifts of this season, of course. Here at Red Willow, air and light are their own spirits, animated with their own breath of life, as are the winds and the earth and the sky and the waters. So, too, is the rare but regular early-autumn snow, the trees who trade the robes for newly fiery shades with every turn of their dance, the wild creatures who range farther abroad now, seeking every advantage of the last vestiges of warmth and light for the year.

Among them, of course, are the more obvious fall visitors: Bear, who typically appears only at this time of year, at least within sight of human eyes; and Coyote, who remains year-round, but who now becomes more adventurous and more willing to be seen as food becomes more scarce. Some of the birds are obvious, too, the raptors and the woodpeckers and tiny chickadees; today, a hairy woodpecker stopped by to visit, and to seek sustenance in the posts around the chicken run.

And then there are the spirits of the earth’s surface, the insects who mostly spend their time upon the soil, rather than above it.

There are the butterflies, of course; the minor royalty of painted ladies are here, although the monarchs they mimic seem to have moved on just ahead of the hard freeze. No more than two or three days ago, the odd dragonfly still flew past, and within the last couple of weeks, a mantis made its temporary home here.

And then there are the weavers.

Spiders are as common here as nearly anywhere else on Turtle Island. Because of our indigenous relationships to them, house spiders are generally allowed to stay; they make very little trouble, and very little mess, and in some traditions are said to bring good luck, or even a financial windfall. [As a brief aside, a mysterious spirit spider once wove some special magic for me: I awakened to find three tiny spider bites near my ankle, with not merely no pain from the bites, but the most glorious three days of relief from the autoimmune inflammation that plagues my joints. Spider venom has long been known for its medicinal properties, and apparently I was the lucky recipient briefly, long ago. So in our household, Spider Woman is allowed to stay, and left to do more or less as she pleases.]

And occasionally, she poses for a picture, too.

Wings captured the image of the tiny black widow shown above some four or five years ago. It had been a wet night, with an unusual amount of dew on every surface that morning. He found her upon the rock, presumably seeking what wan sun there was to warm her, her body bejeweled as it was with tiny cold dewdrops. She was a spectacularly glossy black, like jet, and the red diamond on her underside was pure scarlet.

She was beautiful.

Of course, in the dominant culture, she is known mostly for her kind’s mating habits, practices in no way restricted to her species but perfect fodder, in a patriarchal and colonial society, for sexist sport, misogyny as metaphor. But she is far from alone; brown widows are known here, if more rarely, and several other species of spider engage in such practices, too — to say nothing of the mantises and other insect species.

The presence of venom, of course, also feeds the stereotypes, and the widows are not alone there, either. Recluses are common here, if rarely seen on our land; here, one is most apt to find grass spiders in the fields and among the hay bales, along with garden spiders; the occasional jumper will also put in an appearance.

Daring Jumping Spider 1 Resized

The jumping spiders range substantially in size and in habitat; many prefer the indoors. Aside from their method of locomotion, their most striking characteristic is the brilliance of their fangs, usually in electric shades of emerald or indigo. The visitor to Wings’s studio earlier this year was possessed of the green variant. And while they are known to bite if threatened, they are mostly harmless, particularly to humans. This one, too, was permitted to stay in Wings’s work space as she pleased.

But the spiders give us another gift, one that will begin to appear with some regularity now that the nights have turned cold. We have had a number of hard freezes already this season, but last night’s was truly hard; on this dawn, every blade of grass crunched underfoot, our small world here seemingly dusted with snow, although it was only the morning frost blanketing each blade. But on mornings such as these, as the sun rises over the peaks, it often reveals something beautiful in the fields: long strands of silken spiderwebs stretched among and across the close-cropped hay, spangled with diamonds in the dew-drenched light.

Spiderweb 092116 Aji

Once in a while, such jewels can be found in more ordinary grass, too, or cached in between fenceposts and tree branches.

But for the moment, the greatest magic is spun by an outsider who found her way here to us. Unlike most of the more common spiders, she is indigenous to the broader land mass, but not to this areas: She belongs to more tropical climates. But however she arrived in this land of the red willows, she has seemed to find her own small place here, comfortably ensconced outside our door (and in yesterday’s post here).

Grandmother Orb Weaving Resized

She is called a tropical orb weaver, but my own name for her differs by a scant three or four letters, depending on the vantage point from which one calculates them: To me, she is the magical orb weaver. She is the color of October’s brilliant golden light, and the webs she weaves are every bit as ethereal, orbs with spectacular radii that are, when undisturbed, remarkably uniform.

She has given us just such an orb right outside our door.

Of course, it is the broader orb weaver clan whose work gave rise to the old stories, and whose Grandmother gave my own people the gift of good dreams (and thus undisturbed rest).

Dreamcatcher Full Resized

It is the orb that forms the webbing of the dreamcatcher that protects our sleep, guards against bad dreams, and generally weaves a barrier across the portal between this world and those more dangerous to mere mortals.

But this time of year, sleep comes more easily for a host of reasons: drier air, cooler temperatures, the clarity and breathability that arrive on the autumn winds. It is, for me, the most comfortable time of year, day or night, and the most beautiful one, too.

And I like to think that our visiting golden girl, busy spinning sticky silk for her diamond-cut orb, is at the same time weaving autumn magic.

~ Aji










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