UnSeasonably Early Webs

Season of Webs, Summer at Last

We’re promised rain by this evening, so on the off-chance that Lucy the Meteorologist won’t pull the football out just before we put everything we’ve got into that one spectacular game-saving extra point, I’ll not go out after all to water the garden this morning.

Out in the field yesterday morning, I was thrilled, for the first time in years, to find the right combination of lighting, pasture maturity and orb-weaver activity to get my first web image in some while.

The first couple of years of blogging, it was almost as if the spider webs was my avatar.

I had not intended to do so, but found myself wandering back in the archives of Fragments to check on the timing of orb weaver pictures, and as I expected, almost all of them are from the fall, not the early summer. I think the orb weavers are certainly around and active, but the pasture usually gets cut before now, and they have no scaffolding on which to hang their fiber-optic creations for me to admire and share with you.

Here’s an entry from autumn, 2003, that I remember quite well–as I do every instant when the shutter embeds a memory of light, heat, dew and dirt.

Yes, this is a single shot--not a fancy layered mock-up

What could be so hard about taking a picture of a spider web, you ask?

Had you driven down our gravel road at about 9:30 that morning, this is what you would have seen: A man (grizzled and frumpy, about some odd task to be sure, obviously hastily clad in ill-matched slightly-ripped flanel shirt and week-old work chinos, black rubber boots, and camoflage GoreTex cap.) The man was standing in such a way that one booted foot kept slipping back into the creek, the other attempted to hold him midway up the steep bank below the dewy pasture where the sun was just flooding the valley with golden light. The man appeared to have both hands fully occupied with his odd employment: with his left he held a small compact black box unsteadily below his face while with his right hand, he held his cap out at an awkward reach as if to give it to an invisible partner (trying to minimize lens flare, of course) flailing it wildly as he slipped from time to time back into the creek.

I couldn’t see through the view finder because of the dazzling sun. I couldn’t both hold my cap to block the sun and hold my position on the bank. And with all this, a steady press of the lens was just not possible. I had no idea which, if any, of the webs was in focus or even in the frame! And so, this picture of three webs… like most of my images, has a story behind the composition that burns that moment, that day, that feeling of wet grass and discovery and brilliant threads into memory. And that is why I get such a kick from photography!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Loved the photographer story as much as I admire the photo. I know my husband and I have had similar experiences. Being a long time reader of your blog, I remember how often you used to post photos of spider webs, and I’m glad you are back doing it.