E.B. White’s Brooklin home is up for sale. The beloved author by anyone with a 2nd-grade reading level and a heart was a native New Yorker, but he chose to live on a farm in Maine. I don’t give the title of honorary Mainer to many but I would have to say White is my favorite of that short list. The farmhouse in question is old like most things in around here, dating back to the late 1700 hundreds. The barn I imagine is full of those big butted gray spiders that when described as gentle, empathetic wordsmiths in a storybook seem magical, but when accidentally brushed against in real life are heart-attack inducing. I know this because they dot the entrances and beams of my family’s old barn too. My father once told me that they liked to build webs in doorways so that they could potentially catch people. His arachnophobia may have been passed down to me, but my upbringing always taught me to respect the place spiders hold on the farm.
While I would like to claim a closer connection to the story of Charlotte, Wilbur, and company due to my rural Maine childhood I cannot. “Charlotte’s Web” may have had a pastoral setting familiar to a little farm girl from The County, but the book went beyond the barnyard with its relatability. It was a lesson in friendship, working together, and most importantly it was about saying goodbye to someone you love.
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
E.B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
I’m not crying. You’re crying.
E.B. White’s writing, whether about a misunderstood swan, an eager to please mouse, or a rag tag team of barn animals trying to avoid the slaughter, is that it speaks to everyone. The stories White shared with us about these creatures are in reality the most human stories of all and that is what resonates so deeply within us.
The average American is now at least three generations away from the family farm today. I wonder how removing ourselves from the farm has affected us as a society. I know that my farm gave me a stronger connection to nature and all her rhythms. Births and deaths, springs and winters, joys and sorrows, but also provided me with a sense of responsibility to the other living creatures that I shared space with. The members of my family, our neighbors, the fish we raised, the song birds in the yard, and yes the scary barn spiders too.
If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
Quoted in profile by Israel Shenker, “E. B. White: Notes and Comment by Author”, The New York Times