It’s just a weedy field full of the normal browns, blondes and greens of summer. Black-eyed susans and plains creopsis offer splashes of yellow throughout. The sun is cresting over cottonwoods and willows as the first rays illuminate what look like tiny puffs of white smoke across the field. The puffs shimmer in an unseasonably cool summer breeze. I’m puzzled at first. Even after looking over countless fields at sunrise in my four decades on Earth, I’m not sure about what I’m seeing. A second later it hits me. They’re webs. I’ve found a spider metropolis.
Each web is highlighted with droplets from last night’s dew. Intricate designs by one of nature’s master artisans, and I barely notice them most of the time. They get attention only when they scream for it, like when one wraps around my face as I traipse through the woods, or in this case, as the focal point for fusion of water and light.
The field is peppered with webs. So many that even a cursory count of those nearby, those close enough to see each strand, proves futile. You can shine a flashlight across your backyard on a warm night and watch the countless little eyes shining back at you to get the same effect. It’s a glimpse into another world.
Spiders don’t bother me. The thought of all those little arachnids out there, just out of sight as I walk through the fields and forests, might creep some folks out, but not me. No, the idea that the population of spiders in this weedy field dwarfs the population of people in the rural county of my birth is humbling. My perspective shifts. It centers me. What else could it do? Here is a little world, full of Lilliputian dramas and primordial secrets that I could never know and my only concern with this world has been avoiding webs on the way to a deer stand. That’s pretty arrogant. It’s not that the spiders possess some profound truth or anything like that — though they very well might -- it’s just a reflection of my awareness or rather, the lack thereof. As the years of my life layer upon one another I notice the gaping holes in my awareness more and more. But taking note of them is a good thing. The holes, like the spiders, are too numerous to count and have always been there. But now I am aware of them.
Awareness is the first step to… well, damn near everything. It means to perceive, to feel, to be conscious of what’s going on around us. We walk through life barely aware of the humdrum monotony in our daily existence. We pay the bills and answer the emails, and we fill the tank when a dashboard light tells us to. We count down the time — time neatly cut and packaged for our convenience — until the next appointment or planned event. Meanwhile, the life and beauty surrounding us in abundance goes on largely beyond our scope of perception. Innumerable sparks of wonder hidden in the tall grass and mist of our everyday lives.
Losing awareness of the natural world around us is a very recent development for our species. It’s also an anomaly. No other higher organism operates in the state of insulation that we do and we pay a high price for this insulation. Sometimes in very tangible ways, like the long list of environmental issues we face, but we also pay with intangibles. We pay for it in ways we don’t know or can begin to understand until a tiny sparkle catches our eye.
A rising sun is quickly burning through the light fog as I gaze on the field. I’m thankful I was here to see it, this little world hidden in tall grass. The landscape is changing, and soon the morning mist and dew will be nothing more than vapor on the breeze of a summer day.