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Where the Wild Things Are

A wee spider is sitting on my computer keyboard, just above F10. It is resting peacefully, face turned toward me, as if it is studying me. I watched it for a while, and then began typing. The spider, surprisingly, didn't move, and I am glad. A little well-wisher is sitting with me as I write.

I share my house with many such friends. Just this morning, as I read the newspaper on the sofa in the living room, I noticed a cobweb suspended from a corner of the ceiling. I got up to take a closer look. The web was several feet long and was swaying ever so slightly in the breeze passing through the window. I reached up to touch it, and instantly a spider hustled down the wall and disappeared behind the sofa. I stepped closer to the web and blew softly across its strands, sending the long streamers swirling around like the tassels of my grandmother's shawl.

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I studied it with my magnifying glass and saw that it was an exquisite design and doubtlessly efficient, for it held the remains of several insects. I was thrilled with my discovery. It was exhilarating to realize that somewhere behind the sofa an artistic, industrious creature was devising plans for another web as grand as this one. I am honored to share my house with such an able architect.

I also share my screened porch. On warm afternoons it's a refreshing place, and I often spend time there, lazily bringing together some stray thoughts but also observing the bees, wasps, and flies that have squirmed through the several holes and loose edges in the screen. I occasionally repair the openings, but high winds across my hilltop invariably open others within days. I've learned to accept, and even admire, my many porchmates, with their whirrings and buzzings and fancy feats of flying.

Indeed, last night an enormous bug smoothly piloted itself past my face, swerved, dipped, and then sailed out through a small slit in the screen. (Although I love hosting my many airborne callers, I know their true home is the spacious outdoors. Occasionally I open the door and escort them out.)

I discovered yet another spider recently. This one had set up shop in a most fitting place. On a small green bookshelf, I have a set of the writings of John Burroughs, perhaps the foremost American nature writer of the 19th century. I was starting to browse for something to read when I spotted this minuscule creature, suspended in the center of its web directly in front of Burroughs's works.

As I looked more closely, I saw that just behind the spider was "Ways of Nature," and next to that Burroughs's book-length essay on Walt Whitman, who wrote one of the most famous of all spider poems ("A Noiseless Patient Spider"). I was so astonished by the charm and absolute rightness of the scene that I sat there with magnifying glass, notebook, and pencil for at least 30 minutes. Did I consider evicting this noiseless, patient little tenant? On the contrary, I called a biologist friend for advice on how to make things more cushy for him.

MY computer spider is still sitting on the keyboard. It hastened away for a few moments, but now it's back, just above the "esc" key. Does it want to see my first draft? Does it think I misplaced some commas? I know this: I am unabashedly pleased to have it with me. In friendship we share this old farm house, and now the neighborly fellow is my attendant in this enterprise.

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