I found Venusta’s neighbor, a grass spider, I think, (in the same Clematis vine) resting in the back of her funnel web, my heart overjoyed to see her there. I couldn’t help but wonder what she thought of me peering in at her all tucked back into her hideaway. In this particular photograph, I wanted to show the entry “ramp” that leads up to the threshold of her retreat. It’s incredibly intricate and sturdy, strengthened by the vine itself and further supported by some sort gluey substance (that only appears in this particular area of the web). These spiders’ decision to build their webs in the Clemtais is simply brilliant. It’s a spectacular arachnid community they have formed together, with an impressive diversity of contributors.
Last year, when I visited their amazing creations (and took over 700 photographs over the course of the month of October, even getting some pictures with ice crystals and snow, with our first snow storm on October 31st!), I never actually saw Venusta (or her relatives or neighbors, whoever, it was at the time.) So, for me to see (and have the opportunity to observe) the makers this time has added something indescribably wonderful to the project.
At the start of spring last year, I was walking down the alley, where this vine had grown and I had spent so much time, and discovered completely unexpectedly one day that the vine had all been ripped down. I could never begin to express the betrayal I felt and how deeply upset I was, as though a part of my own self had been ripped out. It was no exaggeration to say that in that moment (when I discovered the vine was gone) I felt my mentor had died. It may seem really strange to say that, but my grief was overwhelming. The beautiful webs and my invisible collaborators were gone.
I did (reluctantly) manage to pull myself together, reminding myself that this is the way life goes… Nothing is permanent…. It was a very good lesson. But that experience (and that entire project) was critical to me for reasons that may become clear in the coming posts.
In the end, what I finally noticed several days later, after walking down the alley in utter mourning for the next week, was that there were still a few strands of the vine remaining. I then had reason to hope that the vine might survive (and started to send it encouraging little smiles and thoughts every time I walked by it everyday after that.) (Yes, I’m a bit on the whacky side you might say…. I’m sure the family that lives in the house that “owns” the vine must think so. 😮 ) Little did I know at the time that these strands retained the life of the entire fabulous gigantic vine that would come back in full force again this fall. And my love affair can start all over again. 🙂
My co-artist for this series is (I believe) a Venusta Orchard Spider. There is a fairly long story to tell about her and her spectacular weaving and what she means to me. I will try to tell it in spurts over the course of the coming weeks, as I share images of her work (and hopefully of her).
I’ll begin by saying that it is this very spider (or perhaps her mother or grandmother–although I have read somewhere that these spiders can live for several years), and her very web (and the webs of her family), located in this Japanese Clematis (which I pronounce KLEM-uh-tis, as I learned from master gardner Miss Mary) was (is) actually my first true inspiration as a photographer. The kind of inspiration that completely sweeps you up, that draws you back over and over and over again in a kind of ecstatic creative mania.
In a way, Venusta was my first teacher of photography. I will also say that my relationship with this spider, so meaningful to me, goes back to the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, whose sculpture titled “Maman” had such a powerful impact on me the day I stood beneath it (just over four 1/2 years ago, a few weeks before the birth of my daughter) that I have never forgotten the experience. I will talk a little bit about that in a future installment.