The Year Begins

Spiders own the workshop at Alban Elfed and I don’t pick fights with them, nor even dispossess them. Far more than it will ever be mine, it is theirs. If you walk down to the shop in early August there’s a disquieting feel about the place, as though you’ve interrupted someone, letting yourself into a stranger’s house and appearing at the dining room door. You settle on one of the cushions, lift a candle holder. A round brown-gray spider scurries from beneath it. You turn over a chunk of blood-red quartz by the Turkish rug. A spider — larger this time — starts out, stops, reverses, and heads for a brass triple-moon bell. You lift the bell, dislodging a turkey feather. There’s nothing there: a mesh of dust and web. It has performed a small sleight-of-hand: you were sure it was in the bell; now you suspect it’s in your sock.

But by Samhain the spiders are truly gone. We’ve already had a hard frost. All except the paper wasps also seem to have disappeared, so there is no food for them, and the wasps have timed their early fall appearance to avoid peak season for arachnids. They cluster at the window frames, wanting out. And it strikes you, like a good Halloween film, that the wasps never came from outside in the first place. They were inside the building all the time, under the stair, under the bed, in the closet, nesting in the light fixtures. Dormant until a warm fall morning, the grass paper-thin, pale as parchment, thistle stalks sere, barely moving. Somehow, though, it’s okay now. You can occupy the workshop again. The wasps are benign. You open the windows, they creep to the edge of the pane and launch themselves into the mild October air.



The wright stuff

I’ve wanted for several years now to write a book called A Natural History of Red Cedar, but I have no time for book-writing. I do have, or fool myself in thinking I have, something more modest: blocks of journal time, ten or fifteen minutes here or there to jot down what I’m already mulling over. About paper wasps at Samhain, about the American robins who have shown up all of a sudden, about the difference between Aster alpinus, Machaeranthera coloradoensis, and Erigeron pinnatisectus, and how on earth anyone bothers to keep track. My book would be modeled on those extraordinary Victorian natural histories, the obsessive amateur efforts of water-coloring women or gentlemen scientists — plain folks who have lost their minds to shellfish, or the badger that lives in the hedgerow, or for Painted Lady butterflies — and not just them, but rack upon rack of specimens pinned and pulled from polished mahogany cabinets. The dictionary defines a natural history of the sort in this way: “The scientific study of animals or plants, especially as concerned with observation rather than experiment, and presented in popular rather than academic form.” There’ll be no pinning of butterflies, but there will be amateur observation, of which these jottings are just the salt and the ash, what is left behind from the sun and from the fire.

Another definition: the “wright” of our title. A wright is someone who makes things, usually of wood. The word is distantly related to the old English for work. It’s rarely used now but it still hangs around in surnames: Cartwright and Wainwright, both wagon makers (that most important of all wrights, the wheelwright, doesn’t seem to be represented so well anymore). But you get the idea. We make things on Red Cedar — walking sticks lately, poems occasionally, and botanical illustrations. But what Nature has wrought, that’s our bread and butter. And so, wright. A pun of “write”. All very clever. In a good, woody way.

…along with the other animals, the stones, the trees, and the clouds, we ourselves are characters within a huge story that is visibly unfolding all around us, participants within the vast imagination, or Dreaming, of the world. — David Abram


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