Last week I was listening to the radio at work as I'm wont to do, and Aaron Copeland's composition Appalachian Spring, based on the old Amish song "Simple Gifts"* came on. I smiled, and sang along quietly to the bits where the tune was the strongest.
It's true, at least for me. It's the simple gifts that mean the most to me. I've learned, as most of you know and the rest are finding out, how to find the simple gifts that Life presents to me every day. All it takes is an eye to see or an ear to hear and a heart open to accepting it.
A few mornings ago I heard a familiar call. Actually a familiar squawk. Now that VW is gone from the office there's no-one else there but me and the Clinical Manager who don't faint or freak out at the sight of bugs. There was a small spider crawling up the wall in my Office Manager's office, and the sight made her squeal. I'll give her this, though--instead of just smashing it outright she called to me to 'take care of it.'
I take it as a point of pride that my office mates have learned that when I proclaim in my quiet voice "all life is sacred," I mean it. I like the Orkin man a lot, he's a pleasant fellow, but I loathe when he comes around with his philters and poisons because I know that for the next week I'll be seeing the office littered inside and out with dead and dying creatures of various sort, from lowly silverfish up to beautiful moths unfortunate enough to land on the poison-soaked bricks.
The spider in question was a lovely little thing, one like many I see in the office. Her filament-thin legs spread out on the wall as she climbed, and instead of the usual round pattern they shaped an oval with it's wide side up. Her little body was a striking sort of orangish red that made me think of a pair of tiny droplets of liquid amber, each the size of a pinhead. I put my fingers under her while she mountaineered up this vertical face, and a brush against her back legs almost too gentle for either of us to feel made her instantly roll into a little ball which fell onto my fingers.
Before I could see her react she was back walking again, finding purchase on my fingers, moving at a goodly pace considering her tiny size (about a quarter the size of my smallest fingernail, so my hand must have been a veritable Appalachian Range for her.) I walked to the door and outside, fully intending to simply let her go the same way I let crickets and June bugs and dirt daubers out--walk to the end of the front porch area to where the grass and the fields begin and give a gentle toss toward the green wild.
My new little friend Arachne, however had a different plan. Her agenda? Rappelling down from Mount Irrelephant.
I reached the end of the walk, turning my hand over and over to keep her on top and in sight when she took a deep breath (if spiders can take deep breaths) and jumped. She began to spin a web so fine that I literally never saw it, but I knew it was there because of the controlled descent that she was making, hanging at roughly 45 degrees in the tiny breath of wind that was blowing down the side of the building.
What made me smile way down in my heart of hearts was how she looked hanging there. Not only was her speck of a body catching the light like a pair of orange-red dew droplets but she seemed for all the world to be parachuting.
I'm sure you've seen people leap from airplanes before. They spread their arms and legs wide and make gentle curves of them to maximize the surface that the air has to flow across, thereby slowing their plummet into a controlled descent. Tiny Arachne was doing the same thing. When she leaped her spinnarettes starting turning a chemical fluid into a line that hardened instantly in the air, and her two hindmost legs were holding onto it as it spun and furled, anchored to my finger somewhere way above. She was hanging, relative to her size, many thousands of times her body-length from the ground, which to her eyes probably wasn't even visible except as a vague green blob 'down' but on she spun, carefully lowering herself.
The rest of her legs she held out from her body wide as she could reach, and each line-perfect leg was curved gently like an eyelash, intended to catch the wind. Perhaps too she meant to reach out to anything that she might encounter in her seemingly endless descent from the rarefied heights, some safe haven. Her whole body had become a parachute, a thin-petaled flower, a spider-lily if you will, and she spun herself out into the world with utmost abandon and all faith that she'd find somewhere to land.
I stood there, arm held at waist height until the invisible line she spun had to be well over four feet long and she finally touched down in the yellowing grass of Fall. A moment more and she was lost to my sight, an infinitesimally small dot of beauty in a world suddenly, to my eyes, grown impossibly large and out of scale. A world so profoundly big that the prowess of my human brain couldn't encompass it all, and I envied my little simple Arachne, lost in her world of green blades of grass and brown earth, blissfully unaware of how very impossibly big the world was, and how tiny her place in it.
I thought about how close she'd come to having her tiny spark of life snuffed out, and how through nothing but my simple intervention she lived on in her microcosmic world. I wondered if perhaps there wasn't someone up there looking down, to whom I was nothing more than an interesting spider on the floor; blue polo shirt and black slacks bare shimmers of colour against the pale concrete, and I went back inside to my desk and my medical records and my music playing softly on the radio.
I've not been that humbled in a very long time.
* Here's a link to a free version of Simple Gifts if you're curious about the music. No lyrics, sorry, but I listed them below. I'm sure you can fit them into the melody if you try.
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
The Dale Worland Singers have a beautiful version available for purchase.