How to Make Spiders Your Teachers, Trees Your Guides

amateur naturalist, spiders, mindfulness, nature, paying attention, field guide, children,

Pay close attention to anything. In it you’ll find wonders.

Consider the spider.

We appreciate spiders in our family. A large orb weaver lives just outside the front door. Every night when we take the dogs out before going to bed we pause to appreciate the intricate web she’s rewoven. It has a lot to teach us about strength, symmetry, impermanence and beauty.

I probably shouldn’t admit it, but a spider also hangs out on the ceiling of our pantry. Its continued presence means there are enough insects in the vicinity to keep it fed, which logically means there are that many fewer beasties getting into our potatoes, dry beans, oats and other stored foods. It has a lot to teach us about interdependence. I’m actually cheered to see it up there, a quiet brown chap making a life for itself high above my canning jars.

When we find the occasional spider elsewhere in the house we move it gently outdoors, unless it’s winter in which case we move it to a large potted plant. (I prefer spiders be relocated to basement plants but I suspect my family members free them in more conveniently located houseplants.)

No, our home isn’t teeming with creepy crawlies. It’s the same as your house. We’re all part of an ecosystem beyond our awareness. Our fellow Earth inhabitants proceed with lives of purpose everywhere around us whether we know it or not. As an example, beneficial bacteria reside in your gastrointestinal tract, contributing not only to digestion but overall health. These microbes outnumber the cells in your body 10 to 1, their types varying widely from person to person—perhaps accounting for major differences in weight, energy and wellness.

No amount of clean living sets us apart from the wider ecosystem we’re in.

It’s easier to think of nature as “out there” in the pristine wilderness. But we’re a part of nature every moment. It is air we breathe, plants we eat, birdsong we hear, weather slowing this morning’s traffic, our very cells dividing and yes, that high pitched whine signifying a mosquito is hovering nearby.

Tiny creeping and flying things around us are the creatures we’re most likely to encounter, reminders that we share our ecosystem with others. It’s even possible to notice them with pleasure.

My kids particularly appreciate spiders so we pay closer attention to these creatures. I don’t know much about arachnids, but what I learn through my offspring helps me to see more complexity, beauty and worth that I could have imagined.

I think it’s easier to pay attention when we keep the joyous curiosity we’re born with but it’s possible to recapture it, to expand it into awe at the wonders everywhere around us.

Consider making a nature study of a something nearby. A tree’s lifecycle through the seasons, the activity around a wasp nest in the eaves, the behavior of birds at a feeder. We’ve learned some techniques for the amateur naturalist from Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s wonderful book Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness.

  1. Learn names, proper as well as colloquial. Learn details about habitat, health and interdependence with other life forms.
  2. Have patience. The practice of seeing, really seeing, takes more than time. It also takes cultivated watchfulness.
  3. Respect wildness.
  4. Cultivate an obsession. Let questions unfold into more questions and whenever possible, find a community of fellow enthusiasts.
  5. Keep a notebook. Writing observations and making drawings are wonderfully wider ways to learn.
  6. Maintain a field trip mentality. Keep up your observations wherever you go.
  7. Make time for solitude.
  8. Stand in the lineage. Vital knowledge has been gained by a long history of people no different than you, people who let the world around them teach its wonders to those whose eyes are open.

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About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" (subversivecooking.com). She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
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10 Responses to How to Make Spiders Your Teachers, Trees Your Guides

  1. Morgan says:

    Beautifully written.

  2. Jimmie says:

    Agreed. Very nicely expressed.
    That is an amazing photo. What a scary yet mesmerizing spider. Love your tips on making nature study very simple — right in your own backyard.

    • Laura Weldon says:

      Thanks Jimmie. We believe the spider (photographed next to a dirty blue hat my son left outside) is a marbled orb weaver. I wonder how similar spiders are around the world, you may have orb weavers in China as well. Could be an interesting investigation!

  3. Jennifer Lavender says:

    Beautifully written. Nature study is something I have been feeling the need to work into our school, but just haven’t taken the time to do it yet. We have observed spiders in our home before though, and are the same as you. We usually try to save and relocate those we find inside rather than squishing them.

  4. Kim says:

    My children love hands-on learning of all kinds, especially when it comes to nature study and science. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  5. Nancy says:

    Wow! You have made a post which is mainly about spiders inspiring to me. (applause, applause). Lovely work.

  6. Pingback: Carnival of Unschooled Life—October 2010 Edition « The Expanding Life

  7. Cristina says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who let’s the spiders live in their house! There is so much to be learned from the natural world and I like that my kids are respectful of it and can live with it.

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