Delight was not the primary emotion I experienced when I encountered these garden spiders in the prairie plantings on campus earlier this month. Especially when I looked up from photographing a clump of seedheads and realized I was nearly surrounded by garden spiders and their webs. Despite fond memories of Charlotte's Web, and appreciation for the way Charlotte uses her writing/weaving skills to come to the aid of Wilbur the pig, my visceral images were more of Bilbo's encounter with giant spiders, and of the giant spiders in the forest at Hogwarts.
Thanks a lot, Tolkien and Rowling. And it is really not fair. Garden spiders are harmless -- to humans anyway. Their webs are works of art I can appreciate, especially when they catch early morning light in a dewy outline. I'm sure there is a plethora of fascinating things to be learned by those willing to look at the spider with a attentive, compassionate spirit.
Still, my first reaction is an "Ewww," especially with these large garden spiders. And why is that? They are no bigger than a monarch butterfly, and their color scheme -- yellow and black -- is not far from the orange and black of a monarch. Yet I'm drawn to the butterfly and flinch from the spider.
I set my spider photos aside, unable to see a spark of delight in them. And then I read this poem by Mary Oliver, from her book Swan: poems and prose poems. And I take delight in her attentive, compassionate perspective. Ah, yes. Spider, butterfly, human, all doing our best to create our homes and find food, making our way as best we can in this pretty, this perilous world.
I tore the web
of a black and yellow spider
in the brash of weeds
and down she came
on her surplus of legs
each of which
touched me and really
the touch wasn't much
but then the way
if a spider can
she looked at me
clearly somewhere between
outraged and heartbroken
made me say "I'm sorry
to have wrecked your home
your nest your larder"
to which she said nothing
only for an instant
pouched on my wrist
then swung herself off
on the thinnest of strings
back into the world.
The pretty, this perilous world.
And just in case you need a break from looking at spiders, here's another image from the same day.
I love the earthy colors of fall -- though I'm not sure why brown and bronze and moss green should be seen as more earthy than the deep blue of delphiniums or pink cone flowers or blazing gold sunflowers.
Here are a few random leaf and mushroom compositions, as provided by Mother Earth -- recorded at Pathways Retreat Center on a gray day earlier this week.
The wind has shaken loose a blizzard of leaves the last day or two. Here's the golden carpet I found in the plaza in front of the Good Library yesterday morning.
It was also a day with some fascinating bird sightings. Coming back across campus, I saw this hawk, with its breakfast of gray squirrel. There have been Cooper's hawks nesting on campus the past few years, but this fellow doesn't match the picture in my Peterson Field Guide. Any bird lovers out there who can tell what it is?
Then in the afternoon, this cardinal caught my eye as it fluffed itself up, and splashed enthusiastically in the bird bath. Its red head and breast glowed, but its wings were more the color of a female cardinal. (Hard to tell in these photos, because the wings are in motion, scattering the water.)
And in a different sort of encounter, Jep Hostetler sent me a video of this bird sighting out his window, up in Collegeville, Minnesota.
The sun was still highlighting the maple trees on 8th Street during the last half of our walk Sunday evening. We walked along Waverly, crunching leaves under our feet and smelling that leafy, autumn smell, along with an aroma of charcoal and grilled hot dogs wafting our way from somewhere in the neighborhood. There was a slight nip in the air -- felt like we should be on our way to a soccer game.
Instead we watched squirrel antics and enjoyed the golden glory of the leaves.
The combination of late afternoon sun and colorful autumn leaves made for fascinating reflections on the millrace today. Sometimes the ducks paddling by stirred the water into Monet-like impressionistic paintings. Other times the water was still, filled with confusing mirror images.
It was a rainy weekend for the annual Assembly retreat at Camp Friedenswald, but a group of us were able to explore the woods with Carol Good-Elliott Saturday morning, before the showers started.
We ambled along, stopping to examine the diversity of shapes on sassafras trees (oval, Michigan shaped, and two thumbed), the rich purple of squashed pokeweed berries, the golden eyes of a tiny spring peeper. Carol had us using all our senses, tasting anise-y sweet cicely, listening for woodpeckers and warblers, rubbing our fingers over the raised ridges of papery beech leaves,.and sniffing spicebush and sassafras leaves (which, according to the grade school children who visit Merrylea where Carol works, smell like Lucky Charms. We went with "lemony, " or to at least one person, "Lemon Pledge"). And even with a gray damp day, and lots of brown leaves around, there were plenty of colorful leaves to admire.
I began this practice of looking for the spark of light each day and then posting photos just over a year ago. We were traveling when the anniversary came round, so this is a belated noting of that marker.
I continue to look for the spark of light or delight in each day, but I seem to have settled into a pattern of heading out for a longer session with my camera about once a week and then drawing on that resource to create a couple posts for the week.
The cycle of seasons has now come full circle. Once again we are moving into the colder time of year here in North America, which may mean I'll occasionally do my search for light by looking back through the trove of photos that I've gathered this past year, rather than venturing outdoors. On the other hand, even the coldest winter has some warmer days. We'll just have to see what happens.
And for today, commemorating the past year and its seasons, I've gone back to that trove, selecting images from this past year into a slideshow to share here.
We had our first frost the night before last, so yesterday we woke to a frost covered yard. The rest of the day was clear and sunny, so mid-afternoon I wandered over to the prairie plantings on campus to see how things were doing. There is quite a mix of flowers gone to seed and flowers still opening blooms.
I was examining some seed heads when two grade school children from a nearby house waded through the plantings to see what I was doing. They were friendly and curious, so we talked about the prairie plants for awhile before the brother headed back to their swing set.
His sister stayed and watched. I was trying to get a photo of a big brown grasshopper, but it kept leaping away. She tried to catch it for me and told me about finding little green grasshoppers in the field earlier. I told her that this one might be one of those -- that they get bigger and browner as they get older.
She nodded and thought about the way things change color as they get older. "Like grandmas!" she said, looking at my white hair with a big smile. "Like grandmas," I agreed, though I'm not one yet.
Grandmas and grasshoppers and all things grow and change. This past week we slipped from summer into autumn, and the trees are beginning to turn vibrant colors, and the smaller plants are turning brown. Or white, like grandmas. Either way, there is an abundance of seeds, so the cycle of growth and change will continue.
To everything .....turn, turn, turn......
There is a season.....turn, turn, turn....
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.
Color, light and shadow, repeated shapes -- what catches our eye? What gives us a spark of delight, a brief glimpse of beauty? Here are a few more from our time in Edmonton.
Breathe deeply. The air is crisp and cool. Except for bird calls and an occasional small plane overhead, the only sound is the breeze stirring the golden poplar leaves. The mosquito hum of summer is gone. Drying leaves crackle underfoot. Mushrooms thrive and the rose hips are cherry red. Overhead is a symphony of blue sky, white clouds, golden leaves, white tree trunks, dark evergreens. Alberta woods in late September....
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"