Just as it finally grew cold this month, the vestiges of summer dangled like bits of grass and twigs in autumn’s last spider webs. A lone yellow hawkweed, contracted against the cold, looked up out of the grass by the gravel walk. A little viney beast with tiny white blossoms and heart-shaped pods grew near it — shepherd’s purse, it was. There were dull orange marcescent oak leaves. Stiff willow-herb. Winterberry branches heavy with red berries, like a galaxy spun from seed. A murder of crows in the topmost branches of empty maples. Biting wind. Up above, two undulating chevrons of Canada geese honking in the cloud-strewn distance and flying due south. Lake Winnecook was as flat and gray as slate.

This was just a few days ago. That night in the kitchen window two brown spiders were hunkered down at the center of their orb webs. These two might have lived so long because of the unusual warm this fall, but I don’t know. They could not survive the inevitable snow, I thought.

It’s hard to accurately identify most species of spiders. The ones that live outdoors, many of them, die in the autumn but rise again in spring when their eggs hatch and a new batch of spiderlings takes over the age-old work. The webs of these two billowed and bounced together in the November gusts. One was constructed in taut, carefully measured rectangles radiating from the center. The other looked miskempt, with trapezoids loosely lashed to rough triangles. Maybe this spider was older than the other, less disposed to neatness. They were hunched down in the center of their webs, waiting for bugs that would never come. The wind batted the spirals up and down like trampolines, and the spiders clung there waiting. The silk is very tough.

They probably did not have long to live. Soon they would starve or succumb to the cold. But if they lasted through the night, they would dutifully build again. They were like two old Chinese poets banished at the end of their lives to the northern frontier and gazing northward into places so bleak it is almost unimaginable. Cold, rolling, rocky grassland in the dark, with nothing beyond but more dark and grassland and strews of boulders and somewhere mountains. No town, no family, no tomorrow. Only vast, empty winter, in the end.

Sooner or later the snow will come. It will cover the gravel and willow-herb and goldenrod skeletons where the banded argiopes perished weeks ago, probably. How long the two old poets in the window will survive, I don’t know. I haven’t seen any new webs in the last couple of days. The shepherd’s purse can live through snow. The oaks are almost stripped. Cold is coming to stay for what will seem like a lifetime. Winter is vast in northern China, and in Troy.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected] His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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