The latest

Posted by: Richenda at Sat Nov 16, 01:07 AM in

Hello reader,

You can probably see for yourself that I stopped updating this site a good while ago. I have kept a few of my favorite blogs on the blog pages. Also, I left up the books I copied so diligently.

You can find
Abbot Gasquet’s English Monastic Life,
J. Charles Wall’s Shrines of British Saints,
Rotha Mary Clay’s The Hermits and Anchorites of England.
Rotha Mary Clay’s Medieval Hospitals of England
with good sized images all scanned on this site, head over this way:

FYI email addressed to ‘molly’ goes nowhere.
Find me on twitter @pastorrichenda

Be good. Stay safe. Do wondrous things.

Arthur C. McGill: Conversation and Tribute

Posted by: Richenda at Sun Jul 15, 02:59 PM in

A few months ago I encountered a book by a theologian who was new to me, his name was Arthur C. McGill. If newly released imprints and new publication (see Wipf and Stock Publishers) are any indication, there is currently a resurgence of interest in McGill’s work. This interest has to include my own. With this article, I hope to offer some information about McGill, who passed away in 1980, to the ‘google-sphere’ that hasn’t been available. This article includes the story of my encounter with McGill, my attempt to find information about him, and finally my effort to put together a biography for those who, like me, want to know more about him.

The cover of a newly published compilation of seventeen of McGill’s sermons thanks to Wipf & Stock Publishers and edited by David Cain. This book is the first in the series “Theological Fascinations” and includes previously unpublished works edited by Cain, with the next volume upcoming. Working title for the second volume is ‘Inverted Values: Arthur C. McGill on Gospel of Need and Dying unto Life.’

My Encounter with McGill:
It is fairly typical of me to first rant about someone, and then subsequently to fall madly in love with them. Such seems to be the case with Arthur Chute McGill.

New reprinting of Suffering, a Test of Theological Method, originally published by McGill in 1968, and Death and Life, which are lectures published posthumously in 1987. Thank you to Wipf & Stock Publishers for reprinting.

I came across his book Suffering when it showed up on a ‘extra reading’ list in a theological studies class. And about half way through the book, I posted a facebook rant that went like this:

Why go to all the trouble to prove … God’s essentials ‘love,’ if McGill is only going to swallow the pill of ‘Satan’ whole without questioning it? So the ‘evil one’ comes from where? God allows the pretense of power from the demonic why? If we don’t know from what we are redeemed, can we be said to be redeemed, at all? McGill … distracts us with his shiny, give-and-take God, and ignores the snake and the mouse altogether.

It wasn’t long, however, before my thinking shifted, first to:

Well, McGill is still somewhat irritating, but … I think his enthusiasm is worth something, and he’s got some good ideas.

And then to this:

Still thinking about McGill. And thinking how something brilliant he did was to shift the way Suffering could be perceived. He rejects the idea that humans are just inwardly sinful and any suffering we have is caused by our condemnable actions that separate us from a perfect God. Instead, he places suffering in the context of a world filled with difficult and unfathomable and harmful ‘powers’ that will attack and disorient and try to dissuade you from following God. Although I don’t love his solution, I absolutely ascribe to the idea of ‘powers.’ I have not decided exactly how I believe these ‘powers’ manifest, but certainly I agree with McGill that it is wrong to say people are inwardly sinful and awful and so if we suffer it is because we are perverse and willful…. I like that he rotates traditional thinking on this AND that he speaks to evangelicals in doing so…

And finally, to this:

Consider me in love. Or dare I say enraptured. I appreciate his energy, his enthusiasm, and his concrete common sense. I love that he dares to speak this concreteness out loud when those who would posit a monistic God are listening. And I love even more that the ‘concreteness’ of his perspective culminates in his own assertion that God is anything but concrete or static or unchanging. God, he asserts, is a God of change.

Googling “Arthur C. McGill”:
Thus began my first Google searches on “Arthur McGill.” What happened next was frustrating as there is/was next to nothing on the web I could find about him, including his obituary! No Wikipedia Article, nothing. (I have remedied that, wiki article here). Even my ticket to the vast digital holdings at the Seminary turned me up very, very little in terms of bio and theological dialogue. He seems to have disappeared into thin air, with only the persistent work of David Cain to keep his voice and work alive. (A big thank you to David Cain, by the way. David Cain is a Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Mary Washington. His primary interests include religion, literature, and theodicy, and the work of McGill, Wiesel, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky.)

My own interest in McGill’s theology is paired with my interest in the man himself. Who was he? In an age where your ‘social context’ is studied as part of the text of who you are and what formed you, I wanted to know more.

A screengrab from Google Maps, Streetview of McGill’s Office at Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.

Below you will find a basic biography of Arthur McGill. Please consider my providing it as both a service and a request. If you knew Arthur McGill, please email me and tell me about it. I know he touched a lot of lives. I know his enthusiasm was infectious and contagious and that he inspired many young theologians as well as everyday Christians while he lived. I would like to hear about him. I would like to post some of those testimonials here on this blog. And I would like a photograph of him that I could post with this article!

In researching McGill, I was blessed by Dr. Ernie Rubinstein, Theological Librarian at Drew University. Those of us who attend Drew know Dr. Rubinstein to be without equal, brilliant and generous. In speaking to him, I discovered the Dr. Rubinstein was a graduate of Harvard and had taken a class, Theology 101, from Professor McGill in 1977. Dr. Rubinstein was generous enough to share not only his own enthusiastic remembrance of Professor McGill, as a caring, vivacious, brilliant and charismatic theologian, but Rubinstein also allowed me to borrow and copy (so that I might share) the careful notes he had made during that class. Dr. Rubinstein’s notes are careful, precise, and can be hard to decipher. But there are places where he made careful note of what McGill said about something in particular, and I have included a couple of those here. Access to the syllabus, as well, offers a good flavor of what McGill saw as some of the key concerns of theology at the time. Unfortunately, by 1977, McGill had already begun to experience health problems, and sometimes had to leave the class lectures early.

Mimeographed and all, the header for the syllabus for Theology 101, taught by A. C. McGill and G. D. Kaufmann, Fall 1977.

Arthur Chute McGill, a basic biography:
Arthur Chute McGill was born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada on August 7th, 1926 to Chester William McGill and Marjorie Chute McGill. The family emigrated that same year to the United States, settling in Brookline, Mass, and naturalizing in 1930.

Wolfville, Nova Scotia, downtown in 2006. Grabshot by Verne Equinox,

As a boy, Arthur McGill attended Rivers Country Day School in Brookline, where McGill was the boyhood friend of John T. Noonan Jr., who would become a prominent Senior Circuit Court Judge. Noonan mentions McGill in his memoir, The Lustre of Our Country The American Experience of Religious Freedom , who speaks of “…my River’s classmate, Arthur Chute McGill” as a friend “who later became a professor at Harvard Divinity School. But at Rivers I thought of Arthur as my chief academic rival, doubly formidable because his uncle, Austin Chute, was our Latin teacher.”

In addition to his theological interests, McGill had an interest in astronomy. The Biographical Record from Drew University states that McGill “has a six-inch telescope with photographic equipment that he developed himself. His particular interest in this field is the open star clusters, like the Pleiades, which pose a problem of identifying which stars belong to the cluster and which only happen to be in the same line of sight.”

Arthur C. McGill was a Fulbright scholar who earned a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D from Yale Divinity School. He married, was ordained in the UCC tradition, and had three children. He taught at Amherst, Wesleyan, Princeton, and Harvard, and was a visiting theologian/lecturer at Drew Theological School, and the University of Birmingham. His last position was that of the Bussey Professor of Theology at Harvard Divinity School where he lived with his family in the homey suburb of Lexington. In addition to university instruction, McGill taught bible studies and was a guest preacher and lecturer at many local churches across the country.

Required reading from McGill’s Theology 101 syllabus, including marginalia.

A list of books required by McGill for his students in Theology 101 included Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth; James Cone, God of the Oppressed; Hans Frei, Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative; Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer; H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation; Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy; Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil; Richard L. Rubenstein, After Aschwitz; Max Scheler, Ressentiment; Sallie Te Selle, Speaking in Parables; and Henry N. Wieman, The Source of Human Good.

At Princeton, McGill also taught a Theology 101 course. At the graduate level, his classes included “Medieval Christian Thought,” and two seminars, “Contemporary Theological Issues,” and “Hermeneutics: the Bible as a Means of Salvation.”

McGill’s career statistics are impressive. I have listed them chronologically below, including a couple of biographical dates. Where there were dates in conflict, I listed both dates, with the one in parenthesis being the one I think is less likely:

1947 (1941) : a B.A. from Harvard.
1949-1951 (1950): McGill served as Pastor of the Congregational Church in the miniscule, white rural town of Pettibone, ND.
1951: a BD (Bachelor of Divinity) from Yale Divinity School.
1951: June 14, married Lucille “Lucy” McGill in Pettibone, ND, with whom he had three children, two daughters and a son.
1951 (1952): McGill was ordained in Hamden, CT, as a minister in the Congregational Christian Church (now the United Church of Christ).
1952-1954 (1955): McGill was an instructor at Amherst College.
1953: Elected as a Kent Fellow in the National Council on Religion in Higher Education.
1955-59: Assistant Professor of Theology at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.
1957-1958: Fulbright Research Fellow at the University of Louvain, Belgium.
1954-55: Pastor of the Congregational Church, Hatfield Mass.
1959-1968: McGill worked first as a Lecturer, then Associate Professor, then in 1964, made a full Professor at Princeton University.
1961 (1960): Ph.D from Yale Divinity School. His dissertation was titled The Place of Dogmatic Theology in the University.
1961: Promoted from Lecturer to Assistant Professor and named the Arthur H. Scribner Preceptor at Princeton University.
1965-1980: Founding member of the Academic Council Jerusalem Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Research, Jerusalem.
1965: Visiting Professor of Theology, Drew Theological Seminary.
1966: Visiting Professor of Theology, Harvard Divinity School.
1967: Visiting Professor of Theology, Drew Theological Seminary.
1967-1968: Senior Fellow in Humanities at Princeton University.
1969: The Edward Cadbury Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, England.
1971: Elected to the position of the Bussey Professor of Theology at Harvard Divinity School.
1980: September 10, McGill passed away in Boston, Mass.

In addition McGill won numerous academic prizes, taught classes and bible studies, led seminars and lectured in local churches, and may have taught or lectured Union Theological Seminary. He was a guest minister and/or supply pastor in the countries and places he visited, was a member of a number of societies, including the Society for Religion in Higher Education, served on the Borough Council for Rocky Hill, New Jersey, and was a Democrat.

The Obituary printed by the Wilmington Delaware Morning News states that McGill suffered from diabetes and had undergone a kidney transplant in 1978. He died in 1980, in his sleep, at age 54. The memorial service was held at the Harvard Chapel. The Obituary notes that McGill was to be buried in Wolfsville.

Conservative? Evangelical? Liberal?
Arthur McGill, known as ‘Art’ to his friends, was a Christian Minister ordained in the United Church of Christ. In general, Arthur McGill seems to be someone we would call ‘liberal minded.’ In articles printed in the Princeton university newspaper, he is recorded as speaking up for the inclusion of women in higher education. In other places, and in snippets, McGill seems to suggest he felt it was men who suffered most from being separated from women academically, as it prevented young men from developing a healthy self-identity respective to women. McGill is also very vocal regarding his dislike of dogmatic doctrines and institutional Classic/Catholic teachings.

Notes taken by Rubinstein from McGill’s class Theology 101. “Two themes for the course: Theology and the Bible, Good and Evil.” 1977. Used with permission.

Notes taken by Rubinstein from McGill’s class Theology 101. “Theology: 1.) worked within a tradition, attempting to express it (ultimate reality). 2.) attempted to articulate what was believed about God in the tradition. The chaotic status of theology stems from the questioning of tradition.” 1977. Used with permission.

Notes taken by Rubinstein from McGill’s class Theology 101. “General Discussion 10/3/77. The question of evil—process thought vs tradition.” 1977. Used with permission.

By today’s standards, McGill might be considered both conservative and liberal, but certainly evangelical. As a Theologian who advocated for a God of change, he is both liberal and evangelical. By his stance on ‘powers’ and ‘evil,’ he would perhaps be categorized as conservative and evangelical. With his emphasis on experience as authoritative, I cannot doubt that he must himself have had experiences of God and the Divine. Additionally, I think his particular mix of theological belief speaks to his enthusiasm for both the common people and an accessible faith as well as a belief that we, each of us, are part of the Vitality that is God. He is ‘conservative’ in the attention he pays to bible-basics in the literature of the New Testament, and he offers an unblinking look at the cosmologies that inform the biblical text, particularly in how the New Testament treats ‘powers’ and ‘evil.’ (McGill’s assertions regarding ‘powers’ reminded me much of the work of the late Walter Wink, whose book ‘Naming the Powers’ shares a kind of kinship with McGill, here, I think.)

Notes taken by Rubinstein from McGill’s class Theology 101. In this notation, Rubinstein has marked where McGill has made a personal assessment and remark in addition to the summary information of the lecture. “Frei’s notion of appreciation [of/&] literary form—the literary form must give us [access?] to reality, but simply attending to the lit[erary] form needed to reveal reality to us.” 1977. Used with permission.

Notes taken by Rubinstein from McGill’s class Theology 101. Here, Rubinstein has made note of “McGill’s Criticism” of the topic. See larger image here. 1977. Used by permission.

McGill was radical for the same reasons he was conservative. He dared oppose a philosophically monistic, absolute God and declared for a God of change. He believed God was accessible to the common believer so much so that that believer could become a true authority of and participant in the creation/fruition of the Kingdom of God. This isn’t the same as Luther’s Priesthood of Believers. Luther wanted to expose a corrupt priestly culture and challenge the ‘set apartness’ that allowed it by bringing the believer up, too. It was a democratization of authority, but one that stayed high. McGill, on the other hand, has a much sweatier perspective. He dismisses all things dogmatic and static and insists that God is down to earth and slogging it out here, with us. When reading McGill’s book Suffering, I can almost imagine hand to hand combat in the streets.

For McGill, theology is an experience. Even in the rhetoric and energetic style of his book he seems to offer us a taste of this experience. ‘Reason’ is a plaything for someone else, perhaps. But ‘experience’ is what erupts from the playground around McGill. And, in this prioritizing of experience, I sensed that McGill saw this as so much more than ‘personal’ experience. Though there is attention to the individual, yes, and emphasis on the importance of individual effort within the constantly shifting ground of theological witness, still, what I really imagined in reading it were clusters and waves and leagues of things all together. It seemed important, vital (for Life!) that we recognize our togetherness. Divine encounter, he seems to declare, is experience to be entered into together, wrestled with together, and altogether shared.

In closing, I will share a wish that I could have been present for this conversation Rubinstein makes note of as having taken place on September 26, 1977:

Notes taken by Rubinstein from McGill’s class Theology 101. “9/26/77, I Method, A. Objective Psychology, B. Otto & Introspective [phenomenology]. II Religion against humanism. III Two questions, A. The status of experience. B. The status of Xianity.” 1977. Used with permission.

(Note: I understand the word ‘Xianity’ to be slang, as it doesn’t show up in the OED. It is a short form of the word ‘Christianity’—similar to Xmas. The X is in reference to the Greek spelling of Christ, Χριστός. The word can be used in a derogatory way, and can imply dogmatic belief. There is no reason to believe McGill himself is using the word as a derogation, though he is known to dislike dogmatic thinking.)


McGill’s Publications:
McGill, Arthur C. The Twilight World of Popular Songs, Religious Education 49, 1954. p 382-88
McGill, Arthur C. Reason in a Violent World, The Distrust of Reason. Wesleyan UP: Middletown, CT. 1958. p 34-50.
McGill, Arthur C. The Place of Dogmatic Theology in the University Ph.D Diss. Yale University. 1961.
McGill, Arthur C. The Celebration of the Flesh: Poetry in Christian Life. Association Press:NY. 1964.
McGill, Arthur C. The End of Intimacy. Christian Faith and Higher Education Institute: East Lansing, MI. 1965.
McGill, Arthur C. The Education of Specialists. The Christian Scholar, Spring 1966.
McGill, Arthur C. The Many-Faced Argument. John Hick Ed. Macmillan:NY. 1967.
McGill, Arthur C. The Death of God and All. That in Radical Theology: Phase Two. C.W.Christian and Glenn R. Wittig Eds. Lippincott: Philadelphia. 1967. p 45-58.
McGill, Arthur C. Technology and Love—A Human Problem Man in Nature and the Nature of Man. Fifth Combined Plan Conference, Arden house, Harriman, NY, 5-8. Nov. 1967.
McGill, Arthur C. Suffering: A Test of Theological Method. Geneva: Philadelphia. 1968. Reprinted Westminster Press, 1982.
McGill, Arthur C. Critique II. Theology Today 25 (1968) 317-19.
McGill, Arthur C. Is Private Charity Coming to an End? Vanguard: A Bulletin for Church Officers 6 (1969) 3-6, 16.
McGill, Arthur C. The Ambiguous Position of Christian Theology, Paul Ramsey and John F Wilson Eds., The Study of Religion in Colleges and Universities. Princeton UP: Princeton. 1970. p105-38.
McGill, Arthur C. The Crisis of Faith Thesis Theological Cassettes: Pittsburgh. 1974.
McGill, Arthur C. Structures of Inhumanity. Alan M. Olson Ed. Disguises of the Demonic. Association: NY. 1975.


Sources for this blog article:
Arthur Chute McGill. Directory of American Scholars, Volume 4, 1982. Science Press. Page 335

Cain, David. Arthur McGill:A Memoir. Harvard Theological Review, Vol 77 1. 1984. p 95-111.

McGill, Arthur C., Suffering: A Test of Theological Method. Geneva: Philadelphia. 1968. Reprinted Westminster Press, 1982.

McGill, Arthur C., and G. D. Kaufman. Theology 101, Class Syllabus. Fall 1977.

Noonan, John T., Jr., The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom. University of California Press, 2000. 23.

Rubinstein, Ernest. Class notes, Theology 101. 1977.

Who’s Who in America, Marquis Who’s Who, Inc. (1978)

United Church of Christ. Arthur Chute McGill. United Church of Christ, Year book. Vol. 1982, New York, N.Y., p. 452.

From the Drew University Archives:
Biographical Information: Dr. Arthur Chute McGill. Faculty Biography. Special Collections and Archives. Drew University Library. Madison, NJ. c. 1965.

Dr. A.C.McGill dead in Boston. Obituaries. Morning News, Wilmington Delaware. 18 September 1980. (Clipping)

From the Harvard Library Archives:
Report of the President of Harvard College and Reports of Departments. 1980-1981. Official Register of Harvard University. Vol. LXXIX July 2, 1982. Page 45. April 28, 2012

From the Princeton Library Archives:
The Daily Princetonian. Volume 85, Number 82, 13 September 1961. Princeton University Library. April 28, 2012.

Simons, Todd. McGill. The Daily Princetonian Volume 89, No 21, March 1965. Princeton University Library. April 28, 2012.

SCA Convocation Emphasizes Women Students’ Importance. The Daily Princetonian, Volume 89, Number 21. 1 March 1965. Princeton University Library. April 28, 2012.

Spider Season

Posted by: Richenda at Tue Aug 17, 02:11 PM in

The Pacific Northwest is not particularly known for spiders. Those honors belong to equatorial countries where the beasts are swollen to great sizes by water and heat, or they belong to deserts where heat and dust seem to have the same result on them. Believe me I have respect for the spiders of the desert.

I still remember my lonely drive along a deserted strip of road in Arizona. In front of me, the road reflected the moonlight and I could see a quarter of a mile ahead a dark animal was in the road. With nothing else to think about, I watched the animal and as I got closer my brain sorted through animal categories as I tried to figure out what it was. A coyote? No, too small. A mouse? No, too large. A rat? No. A mole. No. Wait…are there moles in Arizona? I don’t think so. Not like they have in Washington, anyway, with the rubbery little noses.

Mole photo by Michael David Hill, 2005, from Wiki Commons. (For a little fun, do a google image search for ‘star nosed mole.’ Trust me, it’s worth it.)

Okay then. So there was a mysterious creature in the road visible from some impressive distance. What was it? A rabbit? They don’t have cute bunnies in Arizona, they have those long-nosed hares. A hare? The closer I got, the more I was sure it was a hare of some sort. For bunnies were fluffy but this one had a kind of boney hunch.

The famous painting of a Hare looking suitably boney from Albert Durer, 1502. Thanks to Wiki Commons.

The closer I got, the darker and more shadowy it looked, and the more strangely shaped. But it wasn’t until I was almost over the creature with the tires that I realized… It’s a spider! I am pretty sure my eyes bugged out as I watched it hurriedly scuttle out of the way and I zoomed on by.

Creepy spiderlegs crawled up my spine as I shuddered to think of a spider that big and what it might mean if my car broke down and I had to do something as dusty as camp on the ground for the night. How many of them could be lurking? And that made me wonder where, exactly, a spider that size could lurk? For I’m pretty sure the thing would be visible to satellites.

Anyway. Enough about the horrors of Arizona. What I really wanted to do is share the arachnoid horrors of Washington state.

Like I said, spiders aren’t exactly associated with western Washington. Here on the wet side of the state we mostly get little forest spiders and a few larger wolfs that make it into the house to frighten you at midnight. But most of them run away as fast as they can and are too small to worry about too much except if you come across them in quantity.

With one exception.

There is a type of garden spider here that is very disconcerting. You see them beginning in spring, but they are small, then. But by the beginning of fall they have been busy eating each other (and everything else) and some of them have grown large enough to give you the willies.

Now everyone on the planet seems to think that if there is a creepy garden spider in the yard it must be the yellow and black Argiope aurantia (or Corn Spider or Writing Spider), which, believe me is plenty creepy in its own right. But though we do get those here, it’s not all that often that I see one. I’ve seen maybe three in the last ten years.

This is a yellow and black garden spider. This is emphatically not the kind of spider I am talking about. Photograph by Deisy Mendoza, from wiki commons.

What we do see, and see lots and lots of, is the European Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus. The European Garden Spider (which just happens to be in my non-European garden) is not yellow and black like the Argiope or Corn Spider. And it does not lie with its forelegs and hindlegs clasped together as if it were a four legged creature.

The European Garden Spider is instead brown and white with numerous markings including a white cross on its abdomen from which it gets the name ‘diadem.’ And it hangs not with its legs together, but resting apart.

This is the spider I am talking about. Photograph by Andre Karwath, from Wiki Commons.

Its web is extremely firm and sticky. You cannot pass through the web of the European Garden Spider or through strands of the anchoring silk without hearing snapping noises as the web breaks and branches of shrubbery previously roped into submission are suddenly released and spring backwards. What I’m trying to say is that the European Garden Spider does not build a fluffy dust-bunny kind of web. Its web is like spun glass, and it sticks to everything.

Look how the end of this fern frond is curled back. It is attached to the anchoring thread of a spider web. Photo by me.

Worse, the spiders can be quite large, to my eye they can reach two and a half inches long. The other main problem is that this spider is…well…meaty looking. I think I prefer my spiders small and wiry, rather than appearing like a portion of meaty pork cutlet too large to chew all at once. The meatiness lends a kind of fleshy vicerality to the whole business of encountering one—and significantly ups the creep factor.

The other trouble with the European Garden Spider is that around here there are a lot of them. They really, really, love it here. The climate must be absolutely perfect and the meals plentiful because a single bush might harbor eight or more of them. A few bushes together are a minefield.

And if they stayed in the bushes, that would be better. But another characteristic of this spider is that it likes to spread its net out across open spaces. In other words, it would rather spread a web across a walkway than stick to the bushes. (A few more years of evolution and this thing will be netting and eating small birds and maybe antelope.)

I have to stop for a moment and acknowledge the beauty and giftedness of this spider. They are the most gifted webmakers I have ever encountered. Their webs are picture perfect, high, round, arched, like meticulously woven sails tacked by slender anchoring ropes. In the dew they glisten. In the sun they sparkle. And otherwise they are almost completely invisible. A perfect net for to catch a meal.

The web isn’t just ornately pretty—spectacular, even. The web is large. Anchoring strands of rope-like web can extend many feet. I’ve seen a web-rope extend from the eaves of the barn to the nearest Japanese maple tree branch—that’s 24 feet. Yesterday while I was out watering the new rhodie I encountered a web stretched between the trunks of two small trees, a span of 16 feet with the web in the middle. And I want to know: how the heck does a spider between 1 and 3 inches long stretch and anchor a strand of web-rope sixteen feet and use it as a suspension bridge to build a web?

Here are the two trees. That black plastic stick on the ground is what I used yesterday to destroy the web. (One point to the human.) Photo by me.

I knocked down that web yesterday, because I am tired of being netted like a bug by meaty creatures with too many eyes. But this morning I thought of writing this article so out I went with the camera to see if she rebuilt it (the females make the webs). I didn’t find her at first, but there was a new web up near the deck over the bushes, so I got a couple of photographs of that for you. You can see how intricate it is. I took a few different angles so that you could get a sense of how suspended it is up there… How do they do that?

I used Photopaint to add an opaque circle so you could see the web better.

Same web, different angle.

Same web, different angle. All three photos by me.

There was another web in that bush, as well. The webs can be so invisible that you literally do not see them until you walk through them. I had taken a number of pictures of the top web before I even saw the one right beneath it.

This web was slightly lower and clearly well anchored in the bush. The spider was at the center of the web, which is typical. If you mess with them, though, they will rear up with their front legs, or run. Or sometimes they make a weird little noise—again, creepy. My son uses the big ones for Airsoft target practice, which I’m not sure I like very much. But to be fair they are big, and creepy, and hang over you… Photo by me.

I also found this other web as I was moving around—again it was invisible until the light hit it. I believe this web belongs to the spider whose house I trashed yesterday. Notice how the web is anchored well off the ground and spread out across an open space.

It is this spreading across open spaces that really makes them so creepy. See this nice walkway in the garden?

Thank you to our cat Figaro who helps bring the cuteness factor to the photo.

By late summer and through fall it is like an episode of ‘Fear factor’ every time you go up or down those steps (or anywhere around the house). The spiders build webs right across the walkways, and they build fast. In the morning it might be clear, but by the afternoon a previously clear section is now booby-trapped. And you will not see the web until you either brush against it or you are nose to nose with the spider herself. It’s awful, I promise.

And if you don’t see it you will walk right through it and the web will stick to you, spider and all. The spider will hang on you, that web is strong. And if you run, it will only bounce along behind you. (And here is where the meatiness really freaks you out because you can feel it hanging and bouncing back there.) After a while you get Post Traumatic Spider Disorder and flinch often and you learn to carry a big stick.

Another spider, this one near the front walk. Notice how difficult it is to see the web. Photo by me.

Around our house we have a name for these spiders, we call them the Booglies. This name is especially perfect at Halloween, when all things creepy seem to press out of the shadows. By October 31, if there hasn’t been a good frost, these things are as big and plentiful as they get. In some years there will be ten or twenty to a large bush, and, as hard as they are to see in bright daylight, in the dark you won’t see them at all. There could be one stretched right across the porch. So close your mouth when you run.

I need not say, then, that it is better if there is a frost before trick or treating, because the first good frost kills them all.

One last story for you. A day or two a week, I get to drive along a beautiful narrow private driveway to a lovely place of rest on the Columbia River. The drive is lined with cascading ferns and small bobbing saplings, and the vegetation is always threatening to overgrow the road. It’s like Jurassic Park, and breathtakingly beautiful. In the middle of the drive, you might be seduced into rolling down your windows and taking in a breath of that magnificently lush, oxygenated air. Don’t.

By late summer there are thousands of spiders and that drive has become a river flowing with spider webs. Those talented Diadematuses will have stretched web after web after web across the road. And by late August and September the spiders will be big. Trust me, keep your windows up. (And your doors locked.) Listen as you drive along the road and you can hear them. It sounds like thwap, thwap, thwap, as your car breaks through the webs and meaty spider bodies hit the front and sides of your car. You will see the forest move as when the webs break the ferns and saplings spring back, catapulting diadem-decorated spider bodies this-a-way and that, and flinging up leaves and dust and a few startled squirrels in the process.

As your car shudders along, thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap, pray for frost.

A Pioneer Story

Posted by: Richenda at Sat May 2, 05:15 PM in

I was looking for the pioneer story I mentioned in an earlier blog so I could post it. As yet I haven’t found that one, but in searching I came across this story of an Avalanche and I had to share it.

From: Told By The Pioneers, Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Washington, Vol. 3., 1938. Editors F. H. Loutzenhiser and J. R. Loutzenhiser. Washington Pioneer Project, Olympia, WA.

by Mrs. W. E. Borton (Mary Brisky)
Chelan County

“A one room log cabin was built in 1887. In 1888, my father, with Sepin and Gonzer, who had come from Bickleton with him, were cutting logs to enlarge the house, which stood at the foot of an arched slope of the mountain. At 8:30 A. M. father had gone down to see Brender. The minister, Rev. Beggs [Biggs], had been lodged for the night. Sepin had been shoveling the snow from the roof. With the shovel in his hand, he heard the swish of a big wind—the mountainside, in the space of a breath, had hurled itself on the unprotected cabin and crushed it as though it had been a celluloid toy. The force of the wind blew Sepin out of the way. Only a heap of snow marked the place where three children and two grown persons were entombed. High up the opposite canyon wall were the splintered logs, bits of furniture, colored scraps of dishes, the wheel of the sewing machine, and other objects. Sepin went for help. At 5:00 P. M. they lifted out the dead bodies of my mother [Laura J. Treadwell Brisky] and the minister, Beggs. […]
“I had just stooped to pick up the baby [Belle Brisky] when the avalanche occurred. I did not realize that it was snow which was smothering us until it was melted by the baby’s breath. The baby melted the snow fast, as she never stopped crying until she was unconscious. I was thrown near mother, whom I could hear, but not see. Mother spoke calmly to us, telling us to lie quietly and breathe as lightly as possible. She asked if we were hurt, or if we could wriggle our arms and legs.
“Mother told us that we would see our father again, but that she would not ; that I would have to be their mother after that day. She instructed me about the care of the baby, even about cooking and sewing. She never stopped talking and the sound of her calm, reassuring voice quieted us children. We were asleep or unconscious when the rescuers dug us out. The cows and the horses cold not be saved.
“To this day I believe the chopping down of the trees and snaking them down the mountain, loosened the avalanche. That was forty-eight years ago, and there has been no repetition.”

This story is one of many recorded through the Washington Pioneer Project and published in at least three volumes. This story is from Volume 3. Volume One is online through the office of Washington’s Secretary of State .

For more information about the people in this story, see Rob Salzman’s e-tree website and the Brisky Treadwell Cemetery in Cashmere, WA.

Roystone Cave and Hermitage

Posted by: Richenda at Wed Aug 27, 06:08 PM in

From one project to the next! With Shrines finished, I am now beginning to transcribe Rotha Mary Clay’s book Hermits and Anchorites of England .

Stumbling around the bookshelves turned up something interesting on 13th century Knights Templar Royston Cave and Hermitage. I’m including a little bit more information, a tragic story, and a few pictures, here.

According to S. Baring-Gould, and his Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe, the Royston hermitage was likely occupied up to the time of the Reformation. At that time, though, the subterranean cavern was filled in with dirt. The cave was rediscovered during an 18th century renovation project, and the local townsfolk dug it out in hopes of finding treasure. Mr. Beldam of the Royal Society of Antiquaries turned up about 1852 to check it out, finding the bell-shaped cave:

“The cave is bell-shaped, and from the floor to the top of the dome measures 25½ feet. The bottom is not quite circular, but nearly so, and in diameter is from 17 feet to 17 feet 6 inches. A broad step surrounds it, 8 inches wide and 3 feet from the floor. About 8 feet above the floor a cornice runs round the walls cut into a reticulated or diamond pattern two feet wide. Almost all the space between the step and this cornice is occupied with sculpture, crucifixes, saints, martyrs, and subjects not easy to explain. Vestiges of red, blue, and yellow are visible in various places, and the relief of the figures has been assisted by a dark pigment” (from page 224-5).

They believe it had originally been—

“…an ancient shaft….But in medieval times the puticolus [porticus] was enlarged and converted into a hermitage, and a hermit is known to have occupied it till the eve of the Reformation, for in the Churchwarden’s book of the parish of Bassingborne, under the date 1506, is the entry, ‘Gyft of 20d. recd. off a Hermytt depting at Roiston in ys pysh’” (from page 225).

Most of the rest that Baring-Gould has to say follows here:

…[Dr.] Stukeley was quite convinced that Royston cave was the oratory of the Lady Rohesia, daughter of Aubrey de Vere, who succeeded her father in 1088, but there exists not evidence that she ever lived at Royston. The place takes its name from Rohesia, daughter of Eudo Dapifer.

“In 1537, says Froude, while the harbours, piers, and fortresses were rising in Dover, ‘an ancient hermit tottered night after night from his cell to a chapel on the cliff, and the tapers on the altars before which he knelt in his lonely orisons made a familiar beacon far over the rolling waters. The men of the rising world cared little for the sentiment of the past. The anchorite was told sternly by the workmen that his light was a signal to the King’s enemies’ (a Spanish invasion from Flanders was expected), ‘and must burn no more ; and when it was next seen, three of them waylaid the old man on his way home and threw him down and beat him cruelly.’ [footnoted as History of England, vol. iii. p. 256.]
“The following notice appeared in the Daily Express of 9 th June 1910. ‘A subterranean chamber with a spiral staircase at one end and a Gothic roof has been discovered at Greenhithe. It is believed to have been a hermit’s cell.’”

Gould goes on to say, on page 227,

“I do not recall any harsh words of the departed hermit. After the Reformation it was felt that a factor in life was gone that could be ill spared.”

And here are the pictures of Royton I promised you:

Sculpture in Royston Cave, Representing S. Christopher and other Saints, men in armour and ladies (facing page 220). (Photo by R. H. Clarke, Royston.) Large Size Image here.

Sculpture in Royston Cave, S. Catherine, the Crucifixion, the Five Wounds, and sundry enigmatical figures (facing page 222). (Photo by R. H. Clarke, Royston.) Large Size Image here.

Royston Cave, A section. The entrance with steps at the side is a modern addition (facing page 226). (Photo by R. H. Clarke, Royston.) Large Size Image here.

S. Baring-Gould’s Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe, published by Seeley and Co. Limited, 38 Great Russell Street, London, in 1911,

For more information, see the Royston Cave"> website.

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