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Do you ever get distracted during the homily in church? I try very hard to pay attention because I know that the priest is trying to dispense a message for my welfare, but we recently had a visiting priest whose message was somewhat less than compelling and I happened to notice that way up in the ornamental hanging lights in church there were some very intricate spider webs. I decided right then that I would make it a point not to sit under those lights—who knows when one of those little buggers might decide to “eliminate.” And you know how hard those little spider spots are to get off.

But I got to thinking ... how do those little critters get up there? Do they crawl all the way up from the floor of the church, across the arched ceiling and down the long chains? And why would they want to be up there? Is the hunting good up there? Or do they like the privacy and lack of competition? Maybe it’s a good place for a home. You know the real estate mantra ... location, location, location.

Then, when a sunlight shaft hit it just right, I could see a single strand of cobweb stretching all the way from the light fixture to the north wall of the church. How did he do that? It must have been at least 15 feet from the light to the wall. What magical laws of physics could allow him to span that distance?

Do spiders conjure up any feelings in you?

I’m pretty ambivalent about spiders. I’m not arachnophobic, but I don’t really like them. They sort of fascinate me, though. I dislike walking into a web that’s strung across the sidewalk—always at my face level—but I think some cobwebs are fascinating.

Side-note: Isn’t “cobweb” an interesting word? Its etymology comes from an old Dutch word—coppe—which means spider. That led to a Middle English word coppeweb, and then to cobweb.

When I was younger, on the farm, there used to be a lot of insects that we called “daddy-longlegs” spiders, which I guess are not really spiders at all because they don’t have two body parts and they don’t produce silk. I looked them up, and I found out that the real name for the daddy-longlegs is “Harvestman.” And although they are arachnids (like spiders are), they are not spiders. They are arthropods (eight-legged) — like spiders but they don’t really classify as insects either because insects have three body parts. Oh, well.

But daddy-longlegs were fascinating creatures, regardless of what they really are. To a little kid who was intrigued by the many life forms that inhabited the barns and sheds of the farm, these delicate long-legged bugs were fun to watch and play with.

But real spiders, while also fascinating, I pretty much left alone. It was fun to watch them in the windows of the barn where there were always lots of flies for them to capture in their gossamer traps. There was one particular spider which always drew my attention. It was about the size of a dime and was bright yellow with black stripes. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now what it was called, but its mere size made me shy away from that species. I wasn’t about to touch one of those beauties.

My mom used to recite a little rhyme about “Little Miss Muffet.” You probably know it, too, right? “Little Miss Muffet/Sat on a tuffet/Eating her curds and whey./Along came a spider,/And sat down beside her/And frightened Miss Muffet away.” If little Miss Muffet was afraid of spiders, maybe I should be, too. I often wondered back then: Who was Miss Muffet? And especially what the heck is a tuffet? “Curds and whey?” Basically cottage cheese made by adding vinegar to warm milk.

I never bothered to look it up back then, but I now know that a tuffet is a low seat, and I recently found out that there really was a Miss Muffet — her name was Patience Muffet. Her father, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Muffet (who lived from 1553 to 1604), believed passionately that spiders could cure many ailments. He wrote that having plenty of spiders in the house prevented gout, and that the dung and urine of house spiders cured running eyes! And, supposedly, he often tried his “spider cures” on his poor daughter Patience. Could this be why she was so frightened of spiders?

How about Peter Parker? Do you know him? Peter Parker is the alter ego of Spiderman. How did he get his special powers? He was bitten by a spider — a radioactive spider — and the bite gave him incredible strength, a sixth “spider” sense, and the ability to climb on walls and ceilings. However, he didn’t use these powers to fight evil until he saw his uncle killed in a robbery. The rest is history.

I guess that’s enough nonsense about spiders, right?

Curtain!

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com

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