Today at the creek I saw something I have wanted to see since I was seven years old and saw the movie Charlotte’s Web.
I saw a baby spider fly.
I was standing at the top of the meadow. It is a steep grassy hill that leads down to my beloved Big Leaf Maple – the one with 23 trunks, which stands just above the path, which runs next to Longfellow Creek… At the time, I was actually watching the tree swallows, who have returned just in time to announce summer, as they do every year. They are arrows on the wind. You can tell by the way they bend their sharp wings how much they love speed. They are looking for every flying speck of protein, every body in the air.
I was standing, watching them orbit the 90 foot Cottonwood trees, which have finally finished their seedy snowing, and then somebody caught my sight, some body in the air. I looked right and I saw the tiniest green basket. It could've been one of the small tree flowers, blown loose from it’s cluster… but there was something about the way it rode heavily in the breeze that made me turn and follow it. It was falling, drifting ever closer to the grass, and I moved my hand under it and it landed in my palm and the tiny green spider that it was unfurled itself from its web balloon and ran across my hand and jumped off, flying down on the thread of its own making, which I attached to the tree branch in front of me just as it hit the ground again.
I don't know if I did it any good. I don't know if I did it any harm. I hope I didn't come between it and its fate, whatever large or small thing that is. I could only imagine the height that it launched from... the giant climb that its mother made, maybe to the top of one of those cottonwood trees, which are even now circled by the violent and hungry swallows. I turned to look up.
How tiring that must've been for that mama spider. How worthy of her life.
Last week my son turned eight years old.
I wasn't there. He was a on his first school camping trip. A two-night camping trip, I might add. I pride myself on being brave. Yes, pride. I know that is a dangerous word, that it goeth before the fall, blah, blah, blah. I think this is horseshit and that healthy pride is a human birthright and that we are told too often to be small, or not aspire to be large, or to stay closer to the ground and shut up about the thrill of the climb…
Anyway. I pride myself on being brave, or at least trying.
But that morning as I said goodbye, I was struggling. Forest had never been apart from his dad and me for two nights, never in a strange place at all. And for fuck’s sake, not with 120 other kids in the dark woods surrounded by bears and cougars and...
Well. You see how a mother’s mind can go on.
But at the exact same time that I felt that frisson of fear crawl up the back of my neck, I was so sure he could do it, this boy of mine. He loves wild places, he is so full of electric life: Stories and lightning, roots and deep wells. I felt proud and terrified and sure of him all at the same time and so there, in the Earth Hall, as I watched him join the swarm of kids carrying their duffels and pillows and sleeping bags, as I watched him hand his booster seat to the dad driving him to Camp River Ranch, I tried to show him that face, the one that is brave and proud, even as I felt like in truth I was that mama spider, up at the top of a tree, panting with vertigo, blown by terror as I kissed his head and whispered to him on the inside, You can do it. You can fly.