July 20, 2014
Coffee with Annie was a delightful and instructive time this morning.
As I drank my coffee, Annie dozed and watched the puddle on the walk for any bird that might unwisely risk an early shower there. I think she was more interested in her nap than in hunting, however. As she “watched” I could hear her purring. From my understanding of cat thinking, serious hunting and purring are not congruent.
A hummingbird came and investigated the helianthus, but did not find them to her liking and so left. Her investigation was, I suppose, business-as-usual for her, but it permitted me to attend an intricately choreographed ballet. Much of the beauty of her dance was too fast for my human eyes to follow but I could see some of it and applaud her performance.
But the show-stopper today was provided by a rather nondescript small brown spider.
I had noticed a web strung between a branch of the barberry bush and the porch post. It was a rather sorry-looking web, not very large, lop-sided, and, to my inexpert human eye, damaged. There appeared to be at least two large holes that were not a part of the original spider design. The web held, however, a drop of dew that made a tiny diamond in the early light. I watched the light in the dew drop in a fashion much like Annie’s observation of the puddle—half-attentive and totally content.
Then a slight motion shook the web. As I watched, a small spider arrived. He proceeded directly to the center of the web and sat down (I assume that spiders sit).
I anticipated that the spider would continue to sit until some incautious insect entered the web and became the spider’s breakfast. That, however, did not happen.
After a bit, the spider got up. Then, systematically going to each of the anchoring threads in turn, the spider dismantled the web!!
I continued to watch, astonished. I have seen spiders weaving webs many times, and their skill and engineering never fail to amaze me. But I had never before watched a spider engineer the deconstruction of a web.
I knew about weaving, but I didn’t know that unweaving was also in the spider’s repertoire of skills. It took a minute for me to realize consciously what I was seeing.
The procedure was amazing—systematic, efficient, purposeful, and incredibly neat. When the spider was finished, I could not see any remaining evidence of the web anywhere, and I soon lost sight of the spider who (supremely indifferent both to my presence and my admiration) disappeared into the barberry bush.
I am still astonished. The spider’s behavior appeared purposeful, and carefully calculated—at no time did the spider's behavior appear to be random. What an amazing glimpse that spider gave me into the world around me that pursues life according to its own rhythms and meaning.
I am thinking—again—about the mystery of place.
We humans, while despairingly imperfect, appear in some ways to hold preeminence of position in God’s creation—we are the “glorious ruin” as C.S. Lewis described the human race. However, watching that small brown spider teaches me again that I am not the only marvelous life form in God’s great creation. I am not the only act in town. Observation alone will teach me this if the practice of humility lies beyond my ability.
See you next week.
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