When I was a kid, I was fascinated by superheroes. One of my favorites was Batman. He was not only the mysterious, brooding superhero, he was also a very rich man named Bruce Wayne. So he alternated between rich guy and gigantic bat (although, ironically, Bruce Wayne was actually afraid of bats). He drove a futuristic vehicle called the Batmobile. He was determined to get rid of his nemeses and to keep Gotham City safe from villains. I was attracted by Batman’s mysterious nature, especially by the fact that he always seemed to prefer dark spaces where people did not congregate. At the same time, I was repelled because I was deeply afraid of the dark.
As I grew up (or maybe just grew older), I spent less and less time thinking about and following my favorite superheroes. Their world seemed dramatic, artificial, bigger than life, and dangerous. And my needs had diverged. I had to think about career and cooking and more mundane things like that. After a while of trying out life as an adult who focused on Getting a Job and Cooking Dinner for One, I really needed something else, something to excite my imagination as Batman had years earlier.
By then, there were the Batman movies. They presented Batman as even more mysterious, more brooding, and with a really wild car that belonged on some sort of futuristic racetrack. That was good for entertainment, but what about real life? Fortunately, the natural world came to my rescue. It turns out that spiders are as cool as any superhero. They build webs so complicated that they attracted the attention of engineers. They have tried to imitate the complex patterns of spiderwebs in bridges. In England, there’s a bridge that’s called a cobweb bridge because of its resemblance to the spider web.
In the natural world, my superheroes are insects: honeybees that produce honey, bees and butterflies that pollinate plants, the decomposing insects (various types of beetles) that break down organic material and turn it into soil or compost or something like that. The world exists because of insects. They do their magic in all sorts of conditions. They don’t drive a futuristic vehicle and they aren’t seen battling villains. Nevertheless, they are superheroes without capes, but with powers that we don’t really understand. They aren’t always visible, but they are always there, just beneath the surface because they are as mysterious as any superhero.