I've been watching a spider web for the past few weeks. I first noticed it up in its full orb glory, nearly two feet across, and then, the next day, it was folded onto itself; I thought it was damaged by the wind and destroyed, and later I saw the spider neatly folding and accumulating the string stuff into a ball. That evening, it was gone. The next day, the whole web returned.
It turns out that spiders do this, web out and then pull the web in again, fix a damaged web, redo it, design and redesign, nearly infinitely, for as long as their season lasts. To build a web, the spider sends out one single, vague, thin strand across an emptiness that is too challenging for him to cross otherwise. In fact the spider doesn't even know how far the gap is, doesn't know if or where that first strand will fall. But if that silk adheres, he'll continue, reinforcing, trusting that first line, and building on, adding a Y shape for support, and then increasing the whole enterprise, using his own body for measurement. Then, when the spider takes down the web, he leaves those first, nearly invisible supports, those first bare lines, that he can build on again the next day. In the case of my personal spider, I've left those supports each time, and the web returns, is rebuilt, each time.
Whitman found in the spider's throw line a perfect metaphor for his "seeking" soul, and I get that, but it's the spider's double whammy of attempt and revision that slays me. I try to get my head around what functions as pure instinct, whatever it takes for him to spin that first line out of his own body into air across unseen amounts of space. How natural, that marvel, and how much I love that feeling, writing that first line, and maybe I'm equal parts heartened and frightened by the fact that it's also difficult, as it must be for the spider, to send out line after line into pure air. It's nearly sentimental to think of that line of support he leaves overnight as a metaphor for revision, but I wouldn't be the first to look to the natural world for a parallel to my searches. Plath's "wet black rook" isn't just preening but "arranging and rearranging," and this attention and absorption of mind to its patterns is not lost on her. It's miraculous, she says, "If you care to call those spasmodic / Tricks of radiance miracles."