Spiders don’t live in our car. With my wife at the wheel—before she even started the car—no spider would have a chance. So I thought it odd, while driving alone across town, to spot a small, mottled one crawling up the inside of my windshield. I considered swatting it—a quick slap to the glass. But that would put me at risk, too. I could end up in the ER with smashed spider all over my bleeding hand. So as a writer I tried to understand the world at that moment from the spider’s point of view. Now I was terrified.
Think about it. You’re upside down, clinging to an expanse of glass at a forty-five-degree angle. You look down to see the sky, clouds, and trees flying past at a speed that would boggle your wee spider mind. In just a few minutes you’ve traveled a distance you would never cover in your short life, right side up, on a lawn, garden, or sidewalk, despite your agility, your adroitness, and your eight scampering legs.
Half a day earlier you thought the car looked like a wonderful challenge. So with a certain arachnid patience (after all, you’re used to waiting for your dinner), you worked your way up the front tire, up onto one of the struts, then took the spiral walkway up the spring. From there you worked your way over to the engine block and stepped carefully over a rugged terrain covered in dirt and grease. You compressed yourself through a labyrinth of small holes, cavernous ports, and hoses until you saw sunlight pouring through an opening above, and you went for it. You found yourself in a new world of polyurethane, polyvinyl-chloride, polypropylene, and glass.
You stood on that field of plastic with its hills and dips and curves, along with the channel of narrow portals from which you emerged. No wind. Hardly any sound.
And then that human invaded your newfound space. It put two of its four legs on the huge circle in front of you and stared past you into the void. When your world began to move, it was time to get out. This human thing was taking you places you never meant to go. You felt it watching you, and you were powerless to stop it. So you crept back toward what looked like the outside and ended up on the glass.
That’s how I figured the spider had arrived at this point, just below the rearview mirror. As my car moved along the street, the spider moved slowly upward. Then it stopped. I figured it was considering alternatives. Just as it might be getting oriented, I would turn left or maybe right, and it would have to recalculate.
Then it dropped about two inches from the glass and hung in mid-air on a single line of silk. Like a mountaineer ascending a fixed rope, the spider climbed up its silk and reattached itself to the glass. It performed this maneuver—rappelling and ascending—about three times as I sped along. After a particularly lengthy plunge, it hung, suspended just above the dashboard. Then it dropped the rest of the way. It hurried to the point where the dashboard met the windshield and disappeared down its portal: the windshield defrost vent.
I arrived at my destination and put the car in park. I thought for a moment, then turned the fan on high, pressed the defrost button, and kept my mouth shut. But nothing happened. Then I remembered the salient truth I’d learned as a kid: somewhere, some scientist had concluded that, on a per weight basis, spider silk was stronger than steel.
That was it, obviously. The moment that cold air hit my spider, it cocooned itself around some small PVC rafter in the dash, wrapped up in a case of stronger-than-steel silk. My spider was not only courageous, it was smart.
I turned off the car and sat there a moment, wondering. How long would it stay wrapped in its silky case? Would it venture again up onto the dashboard, adapt to its new, mechanized world, or would it return the way it came, drop onto the pavement, make its way to the nearest spread of weeds, grass, and trees, and begin a new life, miles away from its birthplace?
Hefty questions for a spider.