01 November 2007


Out hiking, I turn a corner and come upon two harvestmen tumbling about on the woodland path, a tangle of legs and bodies, rolling, rollicking back and forth. What is going on here? Are they fighting? Making love? Kissing? Killing each other? I haven’t a clue. Should I interrupt, separate them? Rescue the smaller one? I choose to watch instead. Comes now a break in the action. They lay still awhile, leg-locked, mouths pressed together. Suddenly the larger one ups and makes a dash for freedom, only to be pursued, caught and wrassled about once more. Then another long lip-locked pause. Four times they repeat this dash and capture, resist-desist sequence. At last the larger one gets away, hides out in the undergrowth, eludes detection. For them, the contest is over. For me, the questions remain.

What did I just witness? What sense to make of it? Was a life lesson offered me?

I want to know more, anything. I open volume one of my 1965 Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary. Harvestmen, I learn, are not spiders but arachnids, members of a family that includes spiders, mites, scorpions and harvestmen—or daddy longlegs, as they are commonly called. Alas, aside from a note that they eat insects, nothing here about the lives and habits of these small creatures.


So I replay the scene in my mind. What do I notice? I make a list:

(1) There is much about life I do not know, do not understand, even when it plays itself out under my very nose.

(2) How difficult it is to do good! Should I have  intervened? On whose behalf? Should I act without knowing the full story? And when am I ever privy to that? 

(3) In the end, I stood back, watched without emotional investment or entanglement in the outcome. I let happen what would happen. Can I view my own life from similar perspective?

(4) The harvestmen were entirely wrapped up in themselves, intent upon their own actions—these two small beings whom I could have crushed with my thumb. Of what real import their struggles? Of what real import mine?

(5) Am I of any more cosmic significance than a daddy longlegs? Would I not appear as ludicrous to any gargantuan force that might peer down at my little wrestlings with others?

(6) Surely a spider knows nothing of the wider human world. Surely such creatures ought to be grateful they have instinct, knowledge and awareness enough to make their way in their own world, and leave it at that. What makes me think I can grasp anything beyond human ken? Am I not arrogant to believe a given religious dogma or scientific doctrine explains the mysteries of the universe?

(7) What does it mean to be alive? To be a human? A harvestman? Are we not all somehow spider-men? Perhaps I have more in common with the creepy-crawlies of the world than I imagine. Surely I can learn from them. 

(8) Will I?

This essay appeared in The Letter, November 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment