Charlotte’s daughters have arrived

Posted Aug. 07, 2009, at 6:33 p.m.

There is no denying that there is something of the miraculous in a spider’s web beaded with dew on a foggy morning in Maine. Tiny water droplets clinging to the sticky threads highlight the amazing work of a tiny creature that depends on spinning a trap that is endowed not only with beauty when seen on such a morning but also with strength enough to ensure the very survival of the spinner, despite its delicate, veil-like appearance.

In short, a spider’s web on a foggy morning is a thing of beauty, fit to inspire nothing less than awe. But thanks to the writer E.B. White, the web inspires something more, as I learned at dawn one day this week in fog-enshrouded Rockland. As I walked along the boardwalk that hugs the harbor’s edge, I knew I’d see a spider’s web or two there, as I had before. But on this particular morning, something much more amazing happened as I saw, between nearly every upright post in the long span of that boardwalk fence, at least one spider web bejeweled with dew.

There were hundreds of webs! And all of them gleamed silvery wet and eye-catching as could be.

And as I looked at them in astonishment, I could not help thinking, “Charlotte’s daughters have arrived!” The scene was so magical that I wanted to believe with all my heart that here was the final solace offered in the closing scene the children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web.” Readers of White’s masterpiece will know that “Charlotte’s Web” closes with the heartbroken pig, Wilbur, who has lost his live-saving, spider friend Charlotte, watching as most of her daughters fly away on small balloons of webby material to make their way in the world far away from Wilbur’s barn.

Readers also will know that the barn was a place that possessed “a sort of peaceful smell — as though nothing bad could ever happen again in the world.” It was the place where one well-spoken spider saved the life of a pig doomed for slaughter with a kind of New England resourcefulness and wit, by the agility of her legs and by the sheer power of friendship. All of these qualities are evidenced when she writes in her web one dewy morning the two words “SOME PIG,” leading Wilbur’s owner to reconsider his plan to make bacon of the pig.

But while Charlotte rescues Wilbur, the pig is helpless to rescue the friend he calls “brilliant, beautiful and loyal to the end” from the normal course of nature, which results in the spider dying after creating a sac full of spider eggs. Readers are supposed to be reassured when three of Charlotte’s brood take up residence in the barn, but what about all of the others?

Gazing at those webs along the Rockland Harbor boardwalk, I felt sure the promise of that book had at last come true, and the relief and sense of well-being that came with this thought made me realize how very much and for how very long I had been waiting for that promise to be fulfilled. I felt as though some essence of that barn had arrived in Rockland, making everything all right in the world again.

The strange thing was that I was apparently not alone in this. I know because as I encountered other individuals looking at the webs, I ventured to say, “Charlotte’s daughters!” When I received huge smiles in reply, I knew another miracle had occurred. It was the magic of children’s literature to surprise and delight and comfort us throughout our lives.

“If we look hard enough,” I dared to say aloud, “We might just find a web that reads ‘SOME PIG.’” Hearing me, the passers-by seemed to walk more slowly, bend over and scrutinize those webs ever more carefully.

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