Keeper of the raft

May 14 | Alafia River: Live oaks hang over the muddy banks of the Alafia. Their giant lateral branches rest atop the water’s surface, collecting the spring catkins and cypress cones that made their way to the river sometime in the past. A few feet below, the sandy bottom is littered with the shells of long-dead spike mussels—agape, and arranged as if they had all turned towards the sun at their last gasp. Where the water has slowed, a raft of vegetation clumsily floats down-river. As it goes, it too gathers: itinerant duckweed, hyacinth, wayward whirligigs, a Styrofoam koozie—all weaved together by tillers of bullet grass.

The keeper of the raft, Dolomedes, lies atop a sweetgum leaf under a dome of dollar weed. The spider’s long anterior legs hang from the bow of the leaf forming dimples in the water where they come to rest. Killifish swim idly below, each pulse of their fins an aphrodisiac amplified by hundreds of spider bristle hairs lining each limb from tarsus to carapace. As the fishing spider takes its prey, the gospel of the river, of nature, is perpetuated—that all living things are vulnerable.

For Dolomedes there is no exception. It hides within the shelter of the raft from its own monsters—and from its own kind {Sexual Cannibalism}. For tethered to a spike of grass hanging high above the raft is the carcass of the former keeper. It flutters in thermal updrafts of the river like a flag on a ship, and as a reminder that death always rides the coattails of life.

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