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Like spiders on the wind

Looking up at Chicago’s tallest buildings, looming gracefully and imperturbably above the hurried streets, they would surely seem to be unaffected by any sort of wild life. Not so.

A few years ago, I spent three weeks visiting the city where I stayed in a beautiful, borrowed condo on the 27th floor of Lake Point Tower. The condo was actually two apartments put together in a fan shape with floor to ceiling windows looking out 180 degrees across the city and Lake Michigan.

A fabulous panorama but also somewhat removed. Gazing below, so far down! The people were tiny, toy-like creatures, and the cars whizzing along Lake Shore Drive looked like platelets in an artery, gliding silently along. There was a sense of being cut off from normal life.

One day, I was standing at one of the windows, when a sudden movement caught my eye. On the pane outside, a spider scuttled silkily into view. Black and compact, its body was quite large and it had long, crooked legs. Out of sight, in the dark metal grooves of the window frame, the spider had constructed a rather ratty web, where she made her precarious home.

From this makeshift, filmy lair the spider crept in and out of view. She appeared to be completely unaware of my presence, no tapping or movement of hands and fingers, or close-up of my face had the slightest effect on the spider’s activity.

What I wondered, could it possibly live on? Do bugs rise this high above the earth? Yes, in fact, they do. There are simply thousands of little flying things blown around the Tower that land on the windows and in the nets spread by the spiders.

Spiders work hard. They are constantly repairing their webs, collecting bugs and keeping things tidy. Feeling the vibration of an insect landing, they scurry out to secure it. Their legs working rapidly and precisely, they latch onto it and embrace it with their two formidable front legs.

Sometimes they suck the life out of their meal then and there, leaving behind a transparent ghost-like shell. At other times they wrap it up for future consumption.

When the Tower’s spider’s web became too full of small carcasses, she started busying about wrapping them in silk threads, making a tidy, gray package and then, with a flick of a leg, cut it loose, the wrapped bundle of dead bug falling 27 stories to the earth below. Satisfied that her home was in order, she retreated to that out-of-sight spot where she sheltered herself.

It’s amusing to speculate that spiders toss out these bundles for housekeeping reasons, but actually, I believe they do it because if all those corpses were left about, they would take up a lot of web space and might warn approaching bugs to stay away.

How do the spiders get up to their lofty habitat, I asked myself? What sort of adaptation is required for them to survive in such an artificial situation? Where would they be if they weren’t on one of these high rises? They definitely thrive, there are dozens of them all over hundreds of these non-opening windows. What has captured my imagination is the way in which they actually get there. After doing a little research, I learned that they are borne by the wind, upon a long, silken thread of their own making, sailing for miles across land and water until finally settling down on the Tower or whatever building they encounter.

What an incredible story! To be utterly dependent upon a force so vagrant and random touches me somehow, tingles my imagination. I am moved to imagine the spiders, lofted high above the earth over water, field and forest, floating along to whatever awaits them with no other option than just to go.

This journey also seems to me a metaphor for life. We’re borne on winds we cannot see towards destinations we know not of, and although we may think we have some control over the outcome, there are so many unknown factors at work, that in truth, we don’t have much more control over anything than the spiders on the wind.

Chloe Scott is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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