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The autumn woods

About six miles from my apartment, there’s a nature preserve, nearly all wooded.

At night it could be freaky, but I find it fascinating. I said as much at a night hike that the local parks district held late last month.

Just imagine—at night, the spiders are spinning, the crickets are chirping and the slugs… well, the slugs are doing whatever they do, I suppose. Sitting there and eating mushrooms. No joke, we found a bunch of slugs chowing down on some odd fungal growths on a log. Big critters too—the mushrooms must have been good for them.

But the spiders—at night you shine your flashlight to the right and to the left as you slowly traverse the paths, and suddenly a thread of silk catches the light. Keep your beam shining upon it and you begin to see the entire web, in whatever shape the spider has found to fit the niche where it has made its home. Some of the webs are smaller than others. Most surprisingly, nearly all the spiders are themselves tiny, some of them too small to see more than three feet away.

Some of the spiders don’t really spin webs at all—what they make are more like nets, more or less, sometimes pulling leaves together to make a miniature hideaway. Those spiders’ nets remind me of the clumps of hair and dust that I’m forever sweeping from my floors.

My favorite spider is a kind of orb-weaver, one that reminds me of a Roman soldier every time I see it. Don’t ask me why—I haven’t a clue. But this spider has a rather pyramidal, sort of spiny abdomen, and it’s always right there on its web, standing like a sentry. I imagine that if it really were a sentry, it would use its abdomen like a bludgeon.

There are more normal-looking spiders, too—brownish ones and nearly albino ones, mostly. And like I said, almost all of them are tiny, small enough that you feel as if you would frighten them rather than the other way around. They’re hardly the size of an ant.

Besides the spiders, there was a lot of fungus growing in the woods. Mushrooms of various types—including one that felt to me like a marshmallow—littered the ground and nearly covered the dead wood we found occasionally. And there was that one bunch of slugs eating away at the insides of some mushrooms. That was weird.

Shelf fungus grew too, mostly on the dead wood. Have you ever picked a mushroom and smelled it? A wild mushroom, that is, not the kind you get at the grocery store. The scent of a wild mushroom somehow feels jarring in the midst of a nighttime stroll through the forest.

Of course, when I went, the scent of rain mingled with the mushroom I held to my nose.

The sound of birds, crickets and squirrels completed the enchantment of the nature preserve. It didn’t matter much that one could still hear the highway not far from the wood; to have it almost drowned out by the tsking, chirping, and clicking sounds made by the nocturnal animals was… glorious.

That’s the only word I can find that properly describes the experience. It is here that I find the most vivid illustration of the glory emanating from God himself.


Alicia said…
You, my dear, are strange! Favorite spiders that remind you of Roman soldiers?? No wonder you are my friend! :-)
Sarah said…
Why thank you. :D

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