I made a mental note to myself a few days ago to sidestep a spot on our deck where a weather-beaten wind chime hangs just below an eave. On the way out of our back door, I often cut that corner a bit as I tromp to my little writing space. If I fail to stoop, my head brushes the bottom of the chimes on occasion, but it’s more than hard enough — my head that is — to take the punishment.
On that particular morning, I fortunately saw the web of an orb-weaver spider pulled across the gap between the house and the chime. It was glistening in the sun, and the spider itself sat perfectly still in its bullseye. Year after year, that place appears to be a popular spot for spiders as if they vie for it like fans who camp out in wait for concert tickets. Since the corner is also near a small fountain and a light fixture, it must serve as a snack bar of sorts, one that stays open all night.
Of course, by 10 in the morning or so, the spider predictably leaves, but not before she gathers her finished web like wind-dried laundry. That is the surefire behavior of orb-weavers: the female spends much of the night dutifully building a web that she takes back in as the sun gets the day underway. I just wanted to be sure I didn’t walk face-first into her work as I mindlessly clomped along with a cup of hot coffee in my hand.
The spider’s web reminded me of both the surprises and predictability we often observe living where we do. Just a couple of days ago, I stood on a little promontory above the creek, a favored spot that enables us to look southwest toward a wide bend and northeast over a logjam that has helped create a long dry sandbar. From there I have seen eagles scream through the curve like an F-16, and I have, more commonly, always found cedar waxwings as they stoically sit on the branches of a locust tree above the sun-bleached trunks and stumps of the jam.
It is the rare surprise to see an eagle, but the waxwings are always there come late September. I’m not sure whether it is out of habit or instinct or that there is an abundance of pokeberries along the water’s edge, but I can always count on those birds being around, usually spotting them in the shadows of the early evening. Their presence makes me feel good in knowing that at least some things are right with the world. Of course, I can always depend on them to be gone by mid-October too.
Cedar waxwings are unusual birds that often exhibit the odd behavior of lifting off from a particular branch only to furiously hover a few feet away before returning to the exact same spot. Most known for sporting small waxy red wing tips, a black Lone Ranger’s mask, a lemon-yellow belly, and a band of yellow tail feather tips, they have a sort of harlequin appearance, but are nonetheless beautiful.
Waxwings will eat insects if they have to but would rather eat fruit, particularly cedar berries; it’s said that they will often appear drunk from eating too much fermented fruit, and I just hope the ones I see have a designated lookout, for that stretch of the creek is also popular with red-shouldered hawks, who fancy a diet rich in easy-to-spot waxwings.
Within a day or so of seeing the spider web and the waxwings, I also walked a strip of woods that borders a cousin’s fields, always alternately planted in now-drying soybeans and brittle corn. There, every year, I find pawpaws hanging low in a grove of deep green trees. Pawpaw trees are among the first to drop their leaves and their fruit in the fall, the first carpeting the forest floor in yellow, the latter predictably gobbled up by deer. Knowing they are short-lived come fall, I picked a few handfuls of the fruit for a friend who asked about them last year, so I beat the deer to them.
In that stretch of woodland, I can always find blooming ironweed and goldenrod, bursting milkweed pods and drying thistle heads, and for that reason will also predictably find butterflies — mostly skippers and sulfurs and monarchs by late September; it is also a place rich with emperor beetles, dragonflies, wasps and bees. Along the way, I know I am going to hear killdeer as they mill about the sandbars in their usual frenzies, and crows that call to one another from the treetops. If I wait long enough, I nearly always spot a big carp as it trolls the shallow waters below me.
Last night, I flipped on the back light as I walked out the door with a bowl of table scraps for our back hillside possum. Caught in the glare were four or five green and gray tree frogs, two of which look as if they are on steroid-enhanced workout regimens since they are bigger than any we have ever seen. The frogs, like the spider, stake out spots around our deck, optimistic I suppose for a night of good eating. We often see their underbellies as they stick to our storm door windows, and are somewhat surprised that they now hardly move, even when we reach for them.
We anticipate the frogs each spring like old friends, and seeing them as they stick to our house siding like decals is as predictable as anything we see and hear, as predictable as the seasons changing.