I live on the 15th floor --- really the 14th, because of the universally-observed superstition of omitting the 13th floor, a superstition worthy of some primitive clan in the back reaches of the medieval forest ---- in an apartment building in downtown Montreal, looking south towards the Eastern Townships and the United States, and in the path of the full sun and the prevailing south-westerly winds.
Below me I can see a surprising number of trees lining the modest residential streets running down towards Sherbrooke street, Montreal’s long-time pride and joy, nowadays transformed from its former elegance into a string of high-rise office and apartment buildings that I would say are a doubtful addition to the ambience of this great and fascinating city.
I have a small balcony, large enough for a couple of chairs and a small table, and one conclusion we have reached from sitting in it, and leaving our sliding doors open most of the summer, without bothering to close even the screen, is that bugs, insects and other tiny denizens of animal life appear to have been expunged from Montreal. Perhaps that is not surprising since I live high above those trees down there, and far from anything resembling a plant or grass or growing live thing, of the kind that might nourish such insects.
And yet --- I am coming to the core of my story --- as the force of the summer sun has diminished, giving way to delightfully mild and pleasant days, a tiny spider has emerged from somewhere and attached itself to my balcony railing, there to set up its field of operations by way of an extensive web.
We have examined this frail construction with amazement for several days, watching as it resists the breezes that never stop blowing up here, not only resists them, but possibly enables their creator to use them to its own advantage. Just how did this tiny creature build this astonishing structure, that appears to have been started against the wall of the building ---- a rough brick structure --- and somehow to have extended itself in a diagonal direction at least two feet across open space, to attach itself to the railing?
This can only be described as a herculean feat, defying, as it does, rational explanation. Did the creator, this tiny spider, weave a long web, let it hang straight down, and then find some way of swinging him or herself on it across the open space, like some spiderman climbing along the edge of a building, as is so often depicted in thrillers? That seems so unlikely, unimaginable, in fact, that one wonders if it could have just allowed itself down by its thread until it touched the railing where it connects to the building, then wandered along the railing, pulling the two-foot web behind it, until it reached the corner where the steel rail offered enough material that the web could be anchored to it? It seems equally unlikely.
Of course all this construction took place before we noticed anything. But once we had become familiar with the work of this master-builder, we decided to call him, or her, Sam, a multi-gendered name that could fit either the possibility that spider webs are built by the male of the species, or the female, and which, in addition is a memorial for my deceased brother, as well as --- on the distaff side --- recognition of a lively new addition to my family through an attachment to one of my sons.
What is evident is that the long-web --- which in architectural terms would have to be described as a load-bearing module ---- had somehow been put in place and then used as the basis for the delicate web built behind and beneath it, filling the space between building and railing with its complex architecture. We awoke the next morning after we first noticed it, to find that at least two dozen tiny creatures had been caught in the web, no doubt providing food for a week or two for the brilliant Sam, designer and creator.
It has rained softly a few times since we discovered it, but that seems to have had little effect on the web, although when I went out to the balcony to examine the latest state of play, I found an amazing transformation.
The nuance, the beauty of the circular portion of the web appeared for the most part to have given way before the overnight breezes, which up at this level can be sometimes extremely brisk. But the web itself still exists, although it has taken on a completely different form. Now, the load-bearing module has been extended from two feet or so to well over three, possibly four feet, maybe even closer to five feet in length, but is still hanging in place across the diagonal space between building and railing, through taking off from a much higher spot on the building. Around the railing the foundational attachment appears to have been strengthened, and now winds around the corner post in seven or eight minuscule web-rings, to ensure stability. The inside structure of the web I at first thought had disappeared, along with the two or three dozens of tiny captives. What was immediately obvious was that some stronger lines had taken the place of the earlier fragile web and appeared to have caught pieces of detritus, little bits of rubbish that must be flying around out there unknown to us.
On closer examination I realized my first impression was mistaken: the little pieces of tuff that I thought I identified were in fact more like the original victims of the web, now organized into a line, some of them covered with a sort of cocoon-like web, and a couple of others still struggling to escape.
No sign of the miraculous constructor of this masterpiece, none at all. I am not saying he or she has abandoned the structure, since she more probably is in hiding in some tiny hole at one end or the other of the web.
Still extant, though so delicate as to be almost invisible to the naked eye, is the delicate circular web from which all previous victims have been removed, leaving the web to wave back and forth gently in the breeze.
This is one of the most wonderful structures I have ever seen, and it must be that someone, somewhere has already figured out how these spiders work their magic. If so, I am hoping one of my few readers can enlighten me, so that my admiration for Sam and his or her building genius can henceforth be based on some solid information that has so far eluded me.
Before any reader dumps on me, I have to say I am aware that my search for this Knowledge about spiders and their construction methods, is in contradiction with the tone of my previous blog in which I urged university students to abandon their studies because the accumulated Knowledge of mankind, promised them by university-study, could turn out to be a poisoned chalice.
Of such ambiguities is real life constructed.