I’m sitting on the back deck of a little log cabin at about 7,000 feet or so in the High Sierra in Hope Valley, California, about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe. I’m getting ready to read a book.
Unknown to me, there’s a single, 2-foot strand of spider web stretched tight between two slender branches of an aspen tree that’s growing near my knee. As the afternoon sun drops lower in the sky and becomes partly hidden by an enormous juniper, a stray beam of sunlight escapes and bounces off the web and suddenly I see the bright band of web sizzling between the two branches.
How does a little spider spin a web between two isolated branches like that? If I was the spider the branches would be hundreds of yards apart.
As the sun moves lower it unexpectedly illuminates hundreds of other strands of web blowing out from branches and twigs in all the other trees. It’s like instant spider webs, everywhere. Amazing.
I bend closer to one and see a yellow speck with microscopic legs on one end of the web — a tiny spider. Armed with that knowledge, I begin to see other tiny yellow spiders at the ends of the other blowing webs. And that’s how they stretch a web from one far-away branch to another. Swinging in the air on a web fastened to one aspen branch and spinning and reeling out web until the tiny yellow spider is carried along by the wind to finally brush against another aspen branch. It quickly fastens (glues) the web tip to the new branch and now it has an anchored cable of web it can use to build a net between the two aspen branches so it can snare tiny insects for dinner when they fly by.
As the sun moves lower, the light begins to reflect off of hundreds maybe thousands of zipping, zooming, swooping, diving insects in air spaces between the trees that moments before appeared to be empty. A startling metamorphosis.
It’s an amazing place, the High Sierra. It’s all so very much alive. There’s a lot of activity in this high thin air above 7,000 feet. It’s another world that you can only see if you look for it, and of course when the light from the afternoon sun is just right.
Mother Nature has her little secrets, but she’s willing to share them with her friends if we’re patient enough to wait for them to magically appear.
My book is still unopened on my lap.