The Garden Spider: Guardian of a Door to Another Dimension
I leave the hamlet of Wasdale Head behind and enter into a field rich with rushes reminiscent of the bristles of a witch’s broom. Towering all around are giants, their faces tinged with ginger stubble as Autumn’s auburn grabs ahold of Summer’s green and gradually disintegrates it into nothingness.
Great Gable, Scafell and Scafell Pike are just a few of the venerable spirits who gaze down at me in the valley bottom, a valley that has been under their watchful eye for millennia.
I arrive at a beautifully clear beck, its water as pure as mountain air and sustaining a thriving population of aquatic vegetation. Leaves, like small, elongated lily pads, float, closely-packed, like overlapping feathers, along a central stretch of the stream.
Swaying rhythmically to and fro beneath the softly flowing water on either side of the vegetal island are countless more of the ovaliform leaves growing gradually towards the surface in their bid for extra light.
I cross the beck at its shallowest point and on tiptoes in an effort to prevent its waters from flooding my Gore-Tex-lined boots. Rush-filled field is abruptly replaced by gorse-dominant scrub, almost as if the beck acts as a demarcation between the two different habitat types.
In the confines of the mean-looking masses of green spikes and spines is an impressive collection of cobwebs. Sitting smack bang in the centre of one of these masterful constructions is a garden spider, its spindly, stripy, amber and black limbs incandescent in the morning sun. Its abdomen is a ruddy great, grey-beige bulge that looks like it’s made from felt, and tattooed tastefully across the back of this swelling is a detailed series of black-bordered, cream-coloured markings arranged in the shape of a cross.
Focused on the web whilst still walking along, I notice the complex nexus of threads disappear from one second to the next. I take one step back and the assemblage reappears. I rock my head from side to side, like a head-bobbing barn owl attempting to obtain a better picture of the world around it, and with each sway the webbing moves, like an apparition, in and out of apparent existence.
I feel like I have discovered the door to another dimension, a spider the gatekeeper, a discovery that doesn’t seem so far-fetched in this fantasy-like world of witches’ brooms, giants and magical changes of colour.
An air of unsociableness oozes from the many gorse bushes before me, no doubt owing to their potential to inflict pain should I venture too far into their personal space. However, among the many gorse bushes, I see a single bush whose unneighbourly outward form is balanced by the delicate beauty of its citrus yellow petals. The flowers are petite and few and far between, sporadic spots of sunshine, their level of flamboyance enticingly modest.
Moving on, deciduous trees add to the mix of vegetation. Contrary to most of the ferns on the slopes of the fells, the majority of plant life down here on the valley floor still keeps a hold of its chlorophyllous green. The exceptions are the hawthorn and rowan trees, which have already lost, in many cases, each and every leaf, their crimson-coloured, berry-laden crowns now striking structures in the landscape.