A friend and I have been having a lively discussion about a couple of praying mantises who apparently arrived at her home on some plants she purchased for her new patio garden. It reminded me of this post, which was written last year but had never actually been posted. So here it is, better late than never. Enjoy!
There is something about the particular that’s important. That idea was brought home to me last weekend [Sepember 2015], which I spent at a conference called “Honoring the Altar of the Earth” held at a local retreat center.
Every spare moment I spent outdoors, walking the trails and noticing everything I could, communicating as best I could with my fellow beings. My attention was especially drawn by the world of the tiny—there are great communities of living beings in any given square foot of the natural world.
The retreat center has some forested areas—disturbed, second-growth, weedy—and quite a bit of manicured lawn area with widely spaced trees, perfect for walking meditations. There’s an ephemeral creek running through the property; at this point in the summer, it’s composed mainly of puddles where mosquitoes breed unhindered. I stayed away from that.
Not wanting to trek through the brush where chiggers lie in wait, I knelt down on the path and focused on a small patch of grass, nettles, and pokeweed. Whom might I encounter there?
A hunting spider (or maybe a nursery-web spider) poised on top of a nettle leaf caught my eye—she ducked and ran to the edge of her leaf when I knelt down, but then returned—it was her leaf, clearly—within minutes. Nearby wandered a female of some strange stick-insect species. A true bug crouched and sucked a leaf. Another, almost-invisible spider suddenly came into focus, hanging on a truly invisible line of web stretched over an open space a couple of feet wide. She sat with legs spraddled, but when I blew gently on her, she turned into a long and narrow “racer” who glided swiftly along that invisible track. I couldn’t see how she moved. Amazing. A (relatively) huge daddy-longlegs prowled among the leaves and stems.
I walked on for a while, hoping for a path into a wilder space, but came quickly to the outer edge of the property, and turned back. When I got back to that little patch of weeds and knelt town again, I was oddly thrilled to see my “friend” the spider, still home atop her leaf; and her buddy the harvestman down closer to the ground.
What was it about encountering these fellow creatures again that was so special? Maybe it’s because I had become aware of them as individual beings, more solidly real than just a kind of generic “spider” or insect—they’re not any more ephemeral than I am myself, and they have strings of days and nights made up imperceptibly of each moment, just as I do.
I persuaded my cell phone’s camera to focus on my little friend—not easy to do—and really enjoyed the encounter, and the act of attending to things so very small. The spikes on the nettle leaf, from the spider’s perspective, are large and easy to navigate. The world is so different at this level of awareness, and so beautiful.
When I got home and processed my photos from the trip, I was horrified to discover that the photos of the spider were not there. The pictures I most wanted to see were gone. Wow. But then, I hadn’t asked her permission to take her picture….
That particular spider—that individual creature, with her own awareness and will—that was one of the messages I received from her: her particularity. It was so delightful to find her again the second day on a different leaf, and so disappointing to find her gone, or hidden, the third day. And it was such a shock and a loss to realize that her pictures had also gone—her individuality lived in my memory, but there was nothing visible or tangible left to me. She exists in this plane still, perhaps, but no longer in my part of physical reality. And I felt her loss.
A few days later, I sit next to my waterfall, journaling, and notice a tiny stone here beside me that bears the ossified, crystallized remains of tiny sea creatures, the remains of individuals whose lives in this plane of reality ended eons ago. They and their relatives—by the billions—once had living bodies that in their death have given me the limestone formations underlying the land on which I live now.
In this small stone I can see the remains of three, maybe four, individual creatures. These creatures, this stone, this human now examining it and trying to imagine a watery life, breathing in my food and oxygen in a shallow, dark sea…. I can’t comprehend billions of creatures forming that limestone bluff; but I can see, in my mind’s eye, these four individuals.
And the pair of doves who used to sit and preen on the deck railing after their bath: I haven’t seen them recently—but yesterday I did see a dove startle up from the ground, largely denuded of its feathers by an encounter with a cat. My cat? That individual bird—was it one of the pair who used to come, now damaged and maybe killed by my own cat? This brings things close to home.
Would “civilized” humans kill so carelessly if we looked into the eyes of the animal and saw the soul behind them? Would we thoughtlessly eat that individual animal if it had a name and a face? I doubt it. Easy to eat meat packaged neatly in plastic wrap. Easy to kill—or not. Rather, easy to eat what has been killed, anonymously, by others out of our sight. We have no responsibility for its life or death, right?
And that particular, individual spider chooses to be, once again, invisible to me. I’m reminded that I never asked her permission after all. Rude of me….
A couple of days after I finished this piece, I chanced to check the recycle bin on my computer, looking for something entirely unrelated. Lo and behold, the “lost” photos of my friend the spider were there after all. Gotta love it. But she sure did provoke a lot of thought, which is a very good thing indeed. And I’m glad to have her back!