Gather ‘round, children. Mother Nature just threw up on our table.

If you think your life is hard, just look at how freakin’ cold these penguins are. See? You feel better, right?

Sometimes, I take myself very seriously.  This leads to all sorts of problems, but you know what helps? Mother Nature.  She has a way of helping me to put things into perspective.  I start to think my life is hard and then I think of Emperor penguins. They live in the freezing cold and if one penguin parent suffers the gruesome leopard seal death then the whole family starves… or freezes.  I hate being hungry.  I hate being cold.  I bet I’d hate getting mauled by a hungry leopard seal. As much as I love penguins, thinking about their plight when I think my life sucks makes me actually grateful that I’m a human with my particular set of non-hungry, non-freezing struggles.   On the other side of the spectrum, there can be times that I think I should be able to maintain control over something and then there’s some huge-ass tsunami with waves that are 12 stories tall and it takes out a whole island country.  Okay, Mother Nature.  Point taken.   There are also just regular nature-things happening all around me, and often, these are the ones that really do the job.  This is the variety of nature-things that is frequent, everyday-amazing and I don’t have to go to Antartica or the newspaper or nature television to find it.  Sometimes it happens right in front of me, uncrafted and unnarrated and I get to bear witness to this undeniable fact that no matter what is happening in my life, mother nature carries on in incredible ways. I want to tell you about one such thing.

On an afternoon a few years ago, I was watching eight kids make things out of clay.  I taught ceramics classes at a community center then.  My students and I enjoyed a beautiful studio with big windows, canvas-covered tables, pottery wheels, and plenty of racks for storing and drying projects. I had already finished my demonstration entitiled, “how to make a clay dragon” and these kids were really grooving along with their projects so I stood back to watch.  That was always my favorite part of class—turning the work and the exploration over to the artists to see what they could do.

While standing aside, I noticed, or actually felt something strange on the table.  There was a sort of haze moving in from the far edge.  I turned my head to look and it still didn’t make sense.  There was some sort of shadow drifting across the table.  I followed the movement to where it was most concentrated and I saw that the little girl at the end of the table had the same shadowy wave moving across her hands and up her left arm.  Then it made sense.  Baby spiders.  Thousands of baby spiders had decided to hatch from their egg sack under the table and within seconds, they had spread across our table and onto this child. She was looking down at her clay, right at the place where the spiders emerged, but she didn’t even notice them.  They were crawling all over her but she just kept on working.

I was mesmerized.  I would have loved to watch the whole thing unfold.  It was so beautiful. But as it turns out, this was a Tuesday and I wasn’t at the community center with my Natural Geographic camera crew, I was there with 8 small children.  I couldn’t really allow my fascination with nature to put this little girl at risk of 1,000 baby spider bites so I grabbed the hand broom, jumped over to her side of the table and in my most casual way, I started to sweep the spiders off of the child and let her know what was going on.  Then there was screaming. She realized what I was saying, saw the baby spiders all over her body and freaked out.  I really wanted her to be able to finish the awesome sculpture of her dad in the bathtub (sometimes artists have their own ideas about what they should make) and avoid PTSD so I started in with calm-teacher voice,

“Isn’t this absolutely amazing?  Those baby spiders just hatched and were looking around and they found your arm.”  I’m pretty sure I sounded just like an American Mary Poppins.

Child continues to scream.

“I’m going to just brush these baby spiders off of you and into this cup and we are going to take them outside.”

Girl is clear, now to the table.

“Isn’t this amazing, you guys?  We got to see all these spiders right here in our clay class.  Our next project is going to be about spiderszzzzz!”

Other children are whimpering and starting to freak out.  I brush the spiders off the table and the little invisible threads that are supposed to carry them off with the wind are now getting caught in the bristles of the hand broom so it’s like I’m pulling in a tiny spider-balloon bouquet.”

Sing-song teacher voice just carries on for a good long while “blah blah, amazing baby spiders, blah blah, isn’t nature so wonderful, blah, we share this world with all sorts of creatures…” I keep this up in spite of the panic and I don’t let up until the noise dies down and the kids start to look.  The moms outside the room come to the doorway to see what the excitement is about but by this point the children and I are together enough to head outside and release the remaining spiders into the wild.  We set them free and come back into the studio to do another sweep, but any remaining spiders had moved on.  All of them.  We couldn’t find a single baby spider on our table.

During the last 15 minutes of class, 5 or 6 spider stragglers did appear, but that was it.  I’m not kidding.  The whole hatch and disperse thing lasted maybe 3 minutes and then the thousands of spiders were gone and off of the table and on to live out their spider lives.  No one got bitten.  Every single kid came back to class the next week.  Even the spider girl recovered.

I think about this a lot and it helps to keep me in check.  These spiders were so tiny that they looked like specks of dust, but these are specks of dust that have 8 nearly invisible legs, eyes, instincts, and long invisible threads to carry them away on the wind.  This spider hatching business happens all around me all of the time and I don’t have to see it or know about it for it to be wonderous and amazing.  It just is. Entire spider civilizations are hatched and then razed in a matter of moments all around me, and not one of them gives a care that I’m really pissed off or have pms or am in the dumps.  They are just doing their spider survival thing and I take great comfort in that. I can be neurotic or really functional and spiders still carry on.  I can be overjoyed and spider lifecycles continue, unaffected.  Is this weird? You know what? I don’t really care if it is because it feels like a big Mother Nature hug.  She’s whispering in my ear, “Amanda, you can be happy or sad  about the stuff that happened back then or you can look around at all the life that is happening right now and pay attention and be amazed.” Thanks Mama N.  You always know just what to say.

Clay Dragon, fierce

My dad in a bathtub