The webbiness of entanglement

What are those black dots?

Wandering along the boardwalk towards the thrombolites.

Cloudy and warm and too early for the sea breeze. Bare headed but carrying my hat, spider silk brushing ears, sticking to hair and faces of the unwary. Fear palpable in groups of visitors – shrieks and near hysteria and agitated jerks from unwary adult and child alike.

Spiders amidst fine sticky webs marked by tufts of silk, moving higher, agitated by the disturbance to their network of webs.

Dancing constellations of jewelled spiders enticing entangled leaves to join with the feathering breeze.
We joined this female at a picnic table as she repaired her web – damaged before we arrived.

Austracantha minax, the Christmas spider is a harmless little orb weaver, still common here and they remind Annette of her childhood (the first one seen in the days before Christmas portending good luck) but is seldom seen now and certainly not in these numbers. There are some at Lake Preston (below) and at Lake Walyungup where they weave their webs between the reeds and the shrubby paperbarks.

Facultatively gregarious (social) Christmas spiders festooning reeds and paperbarks. They are sharing webs with a golden orb weaving spider and are active day and night (cathemeral) like the midges and mosquitoes rising from the drying mud.

The seemingly infinite webs strewn through the air bring to mind Donna Haraway’s (2016) use of the game of string figuring, or cats cradling, to remind us of the infinite and ever-changing connectedness of the world. Haraway’s string figures provoke us to consider how and what multispecies connections, harmonies or entanglements emerge in this place. But Haraway and these spiders and their webs, also remind us that “[n]othing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something” (Haraway, 2016, p. 31).

“The tentacular ones make attachments and detachments; they [m]ake cuts and knots; they make a difference; they weave paths and consequences but not determinisms; they are both open and knotted in some ways and not others” (Haraway, 2016, p. 31)

Along a similar line, these spidery string figurings also bring to mind theoretical physicist, Karen Barad’s notion of “entanglement”:

“To be entangled is not simply to be intertwined with another, as in the joining of separate entities, but to lack an independent, self-contained existence. Existence is not an individual affair. Individuals do not preexist their interactions; rather, individuals emerge through and as part of their entangled intra-relating.” (Barad, 2007, p. ix)

Like Haraway, Barad reminds us not that everything is connected but that everything is in relationship with something, and that these relations bring with them obligations:

“Entanglements are not a name for the interconnectedness of all being as one, but rather specific material relations of the ongoing differentiating of the world. Entanglements are relations of obligation – being bound to the other – enfolded traces of othering.”(Barad, 2010)


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.

Barad, K. (2010). Quantum entanglements and hauntological relations of inheritance: Dis/continuities, spacetime enfoldings, and justice-to-come. Derrida Today, 3(2), 240–268.

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

Cultivating Soil Relations

Soil scientist Angela visited the thrombolites with us today. Her presence makes us aware of soils’ overlooked status – as we introduce Angela, one of the children says, “Let’s go to the water!”

Water holds more allure than soil and they dash off to see it. And once the children reach the water, the thrombolites’ charisma becomes apparent – they are, after all, what they have come here to see. We start to think children will not be interested in soil.

While the children rush around excitedly drawing and taking photos of water and thrombolites, Angela quietly sits down near the edge of the lake, puts a small trowelful of soil in her pan and analyses what is before her.

Eventually the children notice Angela with her unassuming soil.

Eeeeeew! Stinky! Yuck! Smells fishy!

The children recoil, eyeing the soil with suspicion.

“Look what I have found in here,” says Angela, “lots of tiny shells.”

The shells are 1-2 mm across. The soil is teeming with them. This really interests the children who come in closer and start picking out the shells, seemingly forgetting their earlier aversion.

“Can you see all the colours in this soil?”

“There’s white!”

“There’s green!”

“There’s pink!”

“And can you feel this crusty bit? It’s from the top of the hole I dug,” says Angela. “It’s salt. The water in the lake must be very salty and those plants (samphire) must not mind it being so salty because you can see they are growing in it.”

The children are now touching soil … or, could it be that soil is touching children?

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“It’s sticky!”

“It’s a bit crunchy.”

Child-soil relations are being fostered…

We move away from the reedy lake’s edge, through the paperbarks ( Melaleuca spp) and back into the shade of the large tuarts (Eucalyptus gomphocephala). Here the soil looks very different. Angela says she can tell what soil is like just by looking at the plants. She digs another small hole. The children look into it- it is full of ants. Angela spots a spider and we wonder if it was living underground like the ants.

The hole is full of spidery roots and mycorrhizal fungi too. So much life in one small patch.

Like the thrombolites, soils are multispecies worlds:

“[S]oil is not just a habitat or medium for plants and organisms; nor is it just decomposed material, the organic and mineral end product of organism activity. Organisms are soil. A lively soil can only exist with and through a multispecies community of biota that makes it, that contributes to its creation” (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017, p. 189).

Angela relates to lively soil

Thrombolites, then, are part of this multispecies soil world, as are the trees and humans. Thom van Dooren asserts “everything is connected to something, which is connected to something else” (van Dooren, 2014, p. 60, original emphasis). This is not to say that everything is connected to everything, but here, the thrombolites which sit 100 metres away from us, are connected to the soil we are now looking at with Angela.

Soil may be a disregarded multispecies community of “unloved others” (Rose & van Dooren, 2011), but neglecting or even overlooking it, places thrombolites at peril.

a child noticing the multispecies relations of soil

Today, Angela helped children to relate with this multispecies soil community by piquing the “art of noticing” (Tsing, 2011, p. 6). She cultivated child-soil relations, and as Tsing (2011) reminds us:

“In these times of extinction… even slight acquaintance can make the difference between preservation and callous disregard”(p. 6) .


Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017). Matters of care: Speculative ethics in more than human worlds. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Rose, D. B., & van Dooren, T. (2011). Unloved others: Death of the disregarded in the time of extinctions [Introduction] Australian Humanities Review, 50, 1-4. Retrieved from

Tsing, A. (2011). Arts of inclusion, or, how to love a mushroom. Australian Humanities Review, 50, 5-21. Retrieved from

van Dooren, T. (2014). Flight ways: Life and loss at the edge of extinction. New York: Columbia University Press.