This has been a year of consuming challenges. I had plans for lots of gardening and prolific writing. But spirit had decidedly different designs on my life, and as each of us knows intimately, spirit always gets its way.
Attending to my responsibility toward the garden became something of a marathon. Note how I have used the word: responsibility. The first step to spiritual stewardship of our beloved Earth understands that the moment we germinate a seed or commit a plant to soil with deliberation, we have taken responsibility for its life. Now that fall is here the garden and I can finally visit; we talk together as weary friends ready for the season of dreams.
Most everyday I spend hours tending to one miniscule patch and while we talk I primp and prune to their every desire. I ease back the mulch and inspect the flurry of new growth hidden there. It feels as though I am a child clandestinely poking around known hiding places, hoping to catch a glimpse of a secret gift. The garden is busy! She is already paving the way for a glorious season that won’t show its face for another six months. Perennials are quietly doubling and tripling their colonies. Although we haven’t seen them since early spring, the tulips and daffodils are multiplying discreetly deep beneath the surface and beyond our scrutiny. The mints, the wormwoods, the catmints, the evening primrose are sending out scouts looking for new territory to explore. Take a peek beneath the mulch and you will see them moving off into every direction. Many things are dropping seeds, some on their own, and others with the help of birds, insects, wind, or magic. In the spring treasures will pop out in the most unexpected places! Fall, for me, exemplifies the spirit of hope and perpetual life. It is profoundly evident that the garden is planning an extraordinary show and I hold the intent of watching it unfold.
I have many other friends as well. Birds are constantly negotiating with the feral cats. I see an occasional raccoon, and a skunk or two shows up to purge the garden of grubs. But what comes to mind, as the nearest and dearest treasures without measure are the spiders and ants. My life would often feel an empty shell without them. I watch everyday, often for hours, and they tell me wondrous things.
Spider Woman, the benevolent wisdom keeper who taught us how to weave, has set up her loom in countless places. She is the creatress of dreams, mystical and elusive, sometimes comic, other times the mistress of dark and troubling worlds. And her manifestations are dazzling. I have seen her appear as a golden jewel set in the heart of a spun and woven masterpiece. She is shy and tentative in that form. Once, long ago and out of fear of my tenacious pruning, she climbed into my ear for shelter. When she is black and glistening Spider Woman is confident, an aggressive, venomous diva who wouldn’t have a single reservation about making me deathly ill. In another presentation I simply call her Lady Gaga; she weaves her web nightly between the shed and a tree, right where I walk each morning. It’s a colossal undertaking, easily four by seven feet. And yet as soon as the sun strikes it she hauls it back in. I think her daily attempt to catch me exhibits a tremendous awareness and a genuine sense of humor. Spider Woman is everywhere, an astute shape-shifter and trickster, weaving dream catchers at night, gathering them in at first light, and allowing us the illusion of a solid, solitary reality for just a while. Manipulating matter is her medicine and she is a master magician.
And then there are the Ant People who saved mankind during one of their many migrations. Old storytellers claim that in those days, when ants toiled to keep us alive, ants enjoyed the same stature as humans. But the toll was enormous, reducing them to the size we recognize today.
In the very heart of my garden the ants have engineered an extravagant colony. They chose a ring of stones that had once surrounded a tree, a creature that had left before I arrived to care-take this small plot. All summer I have watched the ants bring up jewels from the deep recesses of our Earth. One week it was brilliant white particles unrecognizable to me. Then I spotted them laboring with a once hidden pocket of aquarium gravel the kaleidoscopic colors of confetti. I tried to picture who might have buried it and wondered, how long ago? The ants moved the colored gravel with obvious intention and when they were done, their entire hill was impeccably decorated. And they are still working, bringing polished black stone to the surface. It looks like anthracite or tumbled basalt, and the chunks are a formidable size. Curiously, some of the ants are moving countless pieces of tan gravel. It had become somewhat scattered during the season and it is being put back in its original setting. Still others are selecting bits and hiding them in the drain holes of flowerpots. I would do just about anything to comprehend their plan.
But what I found most telling this year was the prey that the ants brought in; big game, huge black beetles the size of my thumb. They would labor for hours bringing them to their hill. Some excavated the entrance to accommodate the extraordinary size of their harvest while others brought up more gravel, creating hidden storage chambers somewhere in the depths of their colony. The Ant People have told me that winter will come early and stay late.
When the snow flies again all of these creatures will find their way into their own dreamtime. I will bundle up and go outside just to stand next to the anthill, watching the snow melt from the rock ring in the pale sunlight, forever confounded by that world. Spider Woman will take her needed rest among the Ancient Ones. In the spring she will be reborn in the souls of her offspring, now asleep; I just can’t imagine where. I could spend a millennium trying to discover their secret but I can’t bring myself to disturb the hidden hope of their inevitability. I am spellbound by the mystery and that is enough.