November 7, 2015

Gossamer Days Return

Over the years, walking the cross-dike trail at Great Meadows has deepened my appreciation for the unseen wonders that reveal themselves in the backlight of the sun. One of the most magical revelations has been the discovery of gossamer days that occur each year during the first half of November.  When the blazing maples have shed their leaves, oaks are glowing with earthen tones, restless geese fill the sky, a light breeze stirs from the WNW, and fluffy cattail seeds just sprung from their brown, velvety wands are floating like snow squalls over the marshes...I now know to watch for spiderlings making their autumn exodus.

Last week brought a perfect string of such days.  Here are some images from one of my late afternoon walks from the parking lot to the river and back, in search of gossamer. I've coupled these with such perfect descriptions from Thoreau's Journal that it leaves me breathless to know that we experienced the same ineffable qualities of this seasonal moment across 160 years of time.

[Thoreau, Journal.  Nov. 1, 1851] It is a remarkable day for fine gossamer... They have the effect of a shimmer in the air.  This shimmer, moving along them as they are waved by the wind, gives the effect of a drifting storm of light.  It is more like a fine snowstorm which drifts athwart your path than anything else.  What is the peculiar condition of the atmosphere, to call forth this activity.  If there were no sunshine, I should never find out that they existed, I should not know that I was bursting a myriad barriers.

[Thoreau. Journal.  Oct. 31, 1853]  I slowly discover that this is a gossamer day.  I first see the fine lines stretching from one weed or grass stem or rush to another, sometimes seven or eight feet distant, horizontally and only four or five inches above the water.  

When I look further, I find that they are everywhere and on everything, sometimes forming conspicuous fine white gossamer webs on the heads of grasses, or suggesting an Indian bat [lacrosse stick].  They are so abundant that they seem to have been suddenly produced in the atmosphere by some chemistry, -- spun out of air, -- I know not for what purpose.

...I see myriads of spiders on the water, making some kind of progress, and one at least wth a line attached to him.  True they do not appear to walk well, but they stand up high and dry on the tips of their toes, and are blown along quite fast.  They are of various sizes and colors, though mostly a greenish-brown or else black; some very small.  These gossamer lines are not visible unless between you and the sun.

...We pass some black willows, now of course quite leafless, and when they are between us an the sun, they are so completely covered with these fine cobwebs or lines, mainly parallel to one another, that they make one solid woof, a misty woof against the sun.  They are not drawn taut, but curved downward in the middle, like the rigging of vessels, -- the ropes which stretch from mast to mast, -- as if the fleets of a thousand Lilliputian nations were collected one behind another under bare poles.  

And back to my present-day ramble, I turn away from the sun, the gossamer disappears from sight and a last shimmer of cattail leaves and seedy froth close the day.

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