Monthly Archives: July 2017

In Appreciation of Spiders

E. B. White immortalized the ingenious spider in his classic “Charlotte’s Web.” Have you taken time lately to appreciate what Charlotte’s descendants and neighbors can do? It’s not that I’m in love with spiders and, no, I do not have one for a pet. But they are very interesting and deserve more attention than just squashing and sweeping out the door.

I was sitting alone recently in Stone Gables, the big stone house where I grew up, just enjoying the scents and quiet conversation of the house itself. It was late afternoon so the sunshine was filtering through tall windows creating leaf shadows on wide window seat and slate floor, shadows that gracefully and quietly shifted. The stairs let out a comforting creak, just a house-breathing sound, and an acorn hit the roof far above.

As I sat there at a little card table sipping coffee and remembering all the many, many times this house had put its arms around me, around my family, in joyous and sad occasions, I noticed the spider webs. They graced window corners and draped across the tops of arches up the stairs. There was even a fine zip-line of a spider’s game from a bookcase to a nearby lamp. I immediately smiled at the picture in my mind of my sister Pat, broom in hand, swiping down cobwebs right and left.

Our house always attracted spiders and our mother was loath to kill them. She said they were our friends, that they kept the fly population down, loved mosquitoes, and didn’t hurt anyone. We knew a black widow spider was to be killed, but other than that very poisonous arachnid, we were urged to leave them all alone. (At that time we didn’t know about the mean little brown recluse which, I believe, does not make a web, just hangs around in dark closets.) That meant, of course, that someone was regularly dusting down webs, both elaborate and mundane. Because Mamma’s kindness toward the spider did not go as far as leaving their webs hanging.

Speaking of elaborate, have you ever really paid attention to the wonderful patterns in spiders’ webs? Of course we never see any like Charlotte’s. But you can see some wonderful beauties. I read that spiders, most of them, have three spinnerets from which to spin. They have the ability to spin three different kinds of “rope.” They can build, they can span, and they can kill. It isn’t true that all webs are created as prisons. Some are for taking care of egg sacs and some, it seems to me, are just works of art to inspire and encourage and, perhaps, irritate.

There are circular webs, triangular webs, flat webs and what I call “picture webs.” If you’re walking in the woods, you may find yourself peeling web from your face. Hopefully, though, you will see it before you would demolish it and, instead, be able to study the infinitely meticulous pattern, almost like a picture suspended between trees. The web patterns are as varied as tatting or lace patterns and the spiders have no copies of crochet designs to follow, or maybe they do have patterns hidden in their bodies. Anyway, if you think the webs are beautiful on a clear afternoon, try viewing one after a shower when tiny droplets are catching the light like prisms along each tiny vein.

An example of the flat webs are those you may see stretched like tiny filmy sheets on blades of grass in the morning. Some kind, imaginative adult told me, when I was a child, that those were fairies’ blankets spread out to dry in the sunshine. I wondered if fairies have accidents in their beds.

But to other appreciation points of spiders. Their silk has been greatly envied and admired. I remember reading a story as a teenager about someone’s life being saved by the silk web of a spider. There is vitamin K, a clotting agent, in the silk and, supposedly, laying thick layers of web across a bleeding wound could actually serve as a “plastic surgery” effect, the fiber latching on to the raw flesh.

Aside from medical uses, some have tried to use the silk for creating fabric. One of the largest pieces of cloth, maybe the largest, was 11 x 4 feet made in Madagascar. Another use was to make the crosshairs for guns and microscopes. And, the most astonishing to me, was the attempt in 2012 to make violin strings from spiders’ web strands. I don’t know how successful that was!

Some spiders’ webs are very, very strong. If you run into a web formed across a hiking trail, a web by one of those monster yellow and black spiders, you will experience the strength and the stickiness. But it was a surprise to me to learn that a given weight of spider silk is five times as strong as the same weight of steel.

Spiders are persistent, can build back a web in minutes. They’re fine weavers, designers, and wonderful acrobats. Have you seen one swinging from a single fine thread? They are zealous reproducers and go to great work in protecting their egg sacs. And–they love insects! Their favorite Sunday dinner is a wasp trapped on Saturday or mosquitoes or flies, or even much bigger meals like a dragonfly. They are excellent trappers. They know how to wait with great patience for their prey and they sometimes have back doors where they can exit the scene if it gets too dangerous. Clever critters!

All this being said, I now have a confession to make. I came around a corner that day in Stone Gables heading to the kitchen to wash my cup, only to find a creature dark against the concrete floor, a very fat meaty body with eight legs, the whole thing being at least four inches wide. A spider. I didn’t feel friendship oozing from this thing. I didn’t feel the beginning of a warm and sweet relationship. I shuddered. What would Mamma say about this one? It didn’t take me long to decide. He was soon a dead arachnid headed out the door in a dustpan.

“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”–Sir Walter Scott

“The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” — Proverbs 30:28

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Discovering Birds’ Nests

When Jared, my grandson-in-law, told me about the mourning dove’s nest built under an eave of a house he and his brother Rusty are building, I was intrigued and asked him to send me a picture. (Look below) Jared and Rusty are trying to avoid that part of the building until the mourning dove finishes raising her brood. That may turn out to be difficult since the bird is on her fourth set of eggs this year. She’s already mothered three sets of hatchlings and seen them fly away! Jared’s report and picture have made me remember birds’ nest discoveries of years ago and not so long ago.


I can still remember the surge of excitement whenever, as a little girl, I discovered a birds’ nest. All ten of us children entered into the friendly fun of seeing who could find the most nests each spring and summer. No one won a prize or even had their name on a poster or had a special announcement made at suppertime. The joy was in the accomplishment.

I think our all-time favorite nest to find, partly because it was hidden so well, was a Carolina wren’s nest. The ones I remember were tucked down under low huckleberry bushes. The best way to find this nest is to be leaning far down picking the wonderfully sweet tiny huckleberries. The nest is built on its side like a neat cave. One can almost step on it and crush it before noticing it, except that the little mama in her muted colors gets nervous when someone’s nearby and begins chirping an trying to lead you in another direction, often feigning a broken wing for sympathy. Her anxiety gives her away. When you find the nest, you must get all the way down on your knees in the soft accumulation of leaves to peer inside and see the perfect clutch of three or four eggs. All our adult lives my sisters and I have compared any wonderful find to “like discovering a Carolina wren’s nest.”

Another nest that was a wonderful find when we were kids was a vireo’s nest. Suspended from a forked twig, this little nest would be tightly woven of very small materials like bits of moss and dead leaves and milkweed cotton. It was like a soft velvety-lined cup just the right size for a little vireo whose song we heard much more than we ever saw her. I can remember being held up by strong brotherly arms to see inside the tiny nest, and maybe once when I was older, trying in vain to climb to a position where I could see in one. These birds are very shy and we don’t seem to hear about them any more. But that could be because we’re not in the woods climbing trees!

Now house wrens are not into seclusion and remoteness. They build in friendly proximity to the human touch. My sister Suzanne has one right now in a bucket hanging on her porch. One year a wren built her nest in a door decoration at our South Broad house. The “wreath” sported a false bird house front and I guess it fooled that poor little bird! She managed to squeeze her weaving of pine straw, a piece of plastic bag, some bits of grass and leaves, even a little girl’s hair ribbon, into a sweet little nest between the door and that wooden decoration. If one of us forgot and opened the front door, she’d fly away in a flutter of startled wings.


Suzanne’s wren’s nest on her porch


Almost everyone, I guess, has found at one time or another, a wren or sparrow’s nest in a boot, on the back of a mailbox, or perched precariously over the top of a screen door. But the best one I’ve heard of was the find of Mr. Julian Roddenbery. For some reason his car wasn’t moved for several days and then when he went out to drive to town he discovered a little brown bird had built a nest in his car’s grill or in the edge of the hood. He began walking to town, wouldn’t move his car until that bird was all done with her nest. What a gentle man!

It takes a very sharp eye to spot a hummingbird’s nest. They like to build high in a tree and their nests are, of course, so tiny. Still, my alert brothers and my dad found hummingbird nests. Then, about twenty years ago, several of us were astonished when a hummingbird built her nest only feet above our heads in a maple tree near Mamma’s room. Mamma was very sick that year, not able to get out much. But she could see that tiny, thimble-sized nest attached to a twig and it brought many smiles to her face. She enjoyed hearing about the Canada goose family living at her pond that year, and she could take joy from seeing the birds at feeders outside her window. But the gift of that hummingbird’s nest so close by seemed like an acknowledgement from God that He cared about her so much and was watching over her.

Our two oldest brothers, I believe, were always the winners of the birds’ nest finding contest as long as they were at home. They each got credit for finding over one hundred nests in a given summer. After they left, others of us were winners, though I know I never did win. I have no idea now what my highest score was. We had some rather loose rules. We could count nests already found by someone else as long as we could honestly say we hadn’t known about them before our own discovery. We could not remove a nest from its place unless the birds were obviously done with it. Our tallies were according to the honor system for we had no cameras to prove our discoveries.

I have come close to having my eyes pecked by angry brown thrashers who thought I was getting too close to their nest in a camellia bush. They seem to grow the most anxious about the security of their homes. But then there are mockingbirds who turn ferocious if a cat even strolls by, and robins who go into frenzies when someone gets too close.

To take to the sky, what an awesome sight is an osprey’s nest, all lonely in a dead cypress, silhouetted against a Florida sky. Or a crow’s nest high in a pine tree. And have you ever “found” an eagle’s nest. No matter how many other people have already discovered it and even if a guide has to point it out to you, what a wonderful sight that is!

It is a healthy thing to watch birds “at work” and to discover their houses so cleverly constructed. The more I learn about them, the more in awe I am of the One Who created them!


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Stars and Stripes Forever

Look for our flag to be flying on the Fourth of July!

You’ll smell the smoke from our grill as Charles barbecues a goat. There will be roasting ears, sliced tomatoes, potato salad, baked beans, all on a red and white tablecloth. And plenty of sweet tea!

The children will come. The sound of bikes wheeling around our circle driveway will be punctuated by sporadic firecrackers in the distance, fired by folks impatient for the real show later in the evening.

There will be a passionate prayer of thanksgiving at our table by our head of the house as he talks to God about our precious freedoms. (Well, that will be after the little ones say their blessing of “God is good, God is great, thank you for this lovely day; By His hands we are fed, thank you for our daily bread.”) Charles will also include prayers for our president, his cabinet, and, of course, our military including, very particularly, my nephew Nathan about to ship out for a year in Kuwait leaving a wife and four-year-old-daughter behind.

As I pull out patriotic trappings “getting ready,” my mind rushes to other Fourths.

There was the year we pulled up peach trees at the Lane of Palms. Some of us longed to go to the beach. Or to the mountains. Escape the unrelenting humidity and heat of South Georgia. But Charles was the veterinarian on call and we weren’t going anywhere. Instead, Mama and Papa Graham were coming and we were all, one way or another, going to be involved in pulling up peach trees, a whole little orchard of them!

The peach trees had proven themselves infertile and had been condemned. Our plan was to concentrate on blueberry bushes and have a good place for a badminton court and a basketball goal.

But did we have to do it on the Fourth of July? Our children groaned.

We started early after a big breakfast. It turned into one of our biggest, most heated, funniest, and most memorable of all Fourths. With Papa’s truck, a chain, the shouts of “Pull!” and “Whoa!” those peach trees were all gone in a couple of hours. But in our minds we remember an all-day torture ending with a feast of hamburgers, mounds of fresh vegetables, and a huge blueberry pie. Ever after, our children have remembered that day as comparable to the Israelite slaves in Egypt building the pyramids.

And there was the year at my birth home when we all gathered around for the cutting of a watermelon. It was a volunteer watermelon we’d watched for weeks growing in a corner of Mamma’s garden. She kept telling us it wasn’t ready but on July 3rd she thumped it and decided, a little dubiously, that we could enjoy it the next day. She instructed Stanley to take it to the spring to cool overnight. We all, about eight of us, gathered around it as Mamma prepared to cut it open, our taste buds wild for the rich red juicy texture. The melon opened–and we all gasped in disappointment. It was the first time I ever had heard of a citron, green and tasteless as grass! To this day, I remember the disappointment unappeased by any substitute.

Charles and I have enjoyed many fabulous family vacations at the Gulf, viewing a parade in Demorest, Georgia and watching kayaking through Tallulah Gorge, enjoying the blue Smoky Mountains, roasting marshmallows in the backyard, watching fireworks at Disney World and at Cairo High School stadium with children and grandchildren. There have been gazillion churns of ice cream, delicious indoor picnics at our church–and one year a very quiet trip to St. George Island with our daughter Julie.

Julie couldn’t get out much in those days. She was in pain and discomfort so much of the time due to a neurological disease. On that Fourth (about 2010), we talked her into going with us for a day trip to the beach. We took folding chairs and established ourselves under a shelter. The wind was brisk, as it always is at St. George, but there were no flies, no-see-ums, or mosquitoes. We ate sandwiches, drank ice cold sodas, watched the seagulls and the blue water. I think I took the game Trionomos, one which Julie always won.  But she didn’t feel like playing that day. Charles, always trying to make things better, tried to figure out a way to push Julie in her wheelchair down near the water. Julie stoutly refused his offer, however. She said she never had liked the sand that much anyway. We stopped on our way off the island at an ice cream shop, a traditional stop for our family. Charles and I climbed the steep steps and purchased cups of ice cream for us to eat in the car. We drove home without stopping for fresh seafood because Julie cared nothing for shrimp or fish. It was when I saw how glad she was to get back to her little apartment that I realized she had gone because she wanted to make us happy.

Charles shared an article in Thomasville Times-Enterprise yesterday about our nation’s birthday. We were reminded that it was actually July 2, 1776 when our founding fathers voted to form the United States of America. The first signatures were written on July 4, but it was as much as a month later before all the signers had affixed their signatures on that earth changing document, the Declaration of Independence.  The last paragraph of the Declaration says: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Each person who signed the document had to know it could be his death warrant, pointed out the journalist team writing for the Times. Yet they signed it, imperiling themselves and their families. Freedom meant that much.

Yes, we will be flying our flag on the Fourth. We are free to salute that flag, to praise the Lord for His goodness, to raise our children in peace, to read books of our choice, to sing our national anthem, to object to what we think is wrong, to shoot squirrels that are eating our lawn furniture, to butcher a goat for a feast, to gather friends and family, to vote for our choice of president and to work together if our choice didn’t win the election. We are even free to pay taxes about which we are regularly informed and to enjoy results, such as traveling safely across the land.

What a great country we live in! Thank God for the USA!

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