Flying on Ropes and Silk
By Amanda Whittington

A girl is on a swing hanging from a tree branch

Photo byAmanda Whittington 2020

I’m pulling the swing back as far as I can, using a gnarled root to balance my feet on the muddy slope. Opaque morning sun cuts through the sycamore canopy and screws up my eyes.

“Hold on tight. I hope you’re ready to go really, really high!”

“I want to go higher than the sky!” she says with three-year-old fearless charm, her hands gripping the ropes which hang long from a thick branch, blackened and bumpy with age.

Above, a spiderling arrives at the tip of a smooth twig dabbed in sunlight. It started its descent when it sensed a strengthening of electrical fields though the tiny fine hairs on its legs. The rope had been a minor obstacle but not as arduous as the bark which peels from the tree in rough layers. It is well acquainted with texture, having lived in this tree all its life. It feels the electrical field getting stronger and it’s time to depart. The spiderling tiptoes its air-thin legs and raises its abdomen towards the sun. It’s spinnerets release silk threads into the air.

“One…”  

I pull my daughter back even further, her body tilting towards the valley below where her brother is poking around in a stream with his friend.

“Two…”  

Silk threads drift together to form a parachute.

“Three… Wheee!”

I let go and she swings high, flying on ropes.

The electrical field lifts the spiderling and it sets sail on the upwind, flying on silks.

My daughter closes her eyes in joy as she swooshes through the air, a tight smile on her face. I can sense her enjoyment of the space between the weightlessness of reaching full height, and the gravity pulling her back down. I think of how she’s feeling, a newness to every experience. She extends her legs out towards the valley.

The spiderling floats past the last autumn leaves and towards the meadow, ballooning on gossamer. For the first time in its life, it’s not attached to the tree.

I look up and see a glimpse of silver catching the sun. Moving my head reveals new angles of refraction, displaying long threads slowly rising from the tree.

“Ali, you’ve got to look up – the tree is full of silver silk!”

“Higher!” she demands as she cranes her neck to look up. “Ooh, I can see them mum!” Her eyes widen with delight.

“They must be travelling spiders – wait – look down at the meadow – there’s hundreds of them travelling on their own silk parachutes!” It’s a beautiful and ethereal sight.  

I help my daughter slide off the swing and she runs into the meadow amongst the kiting spiderlings as they drift through the valley on their mysterious journey.