Monday, February 23, 2009

A bit of debris...

I'm doing about 63 mph when I notice it, and I suspend my distance vision from its "defensive driving" sweep and refocus onto... what? A tiny movement had caught my eye... There. Not a bit of debris after all, but a tiny crab-shaped spider clinging desperately to the glass of my aerodynamic windshield. She is a pale yellow-green and in the sun's glare her body appears translucent, as if she had been splattered there the night before, as I first thought. But I can see she is very much alive, her little form being buffeted, her tiny abdomen moving in a minuscule jerky little hula dance as she struggles to hold fast. She (I automatically assume it's a she) is so small she could fit inside the circle of a dime even with all her eight legs outstretched as they are now. In this brief second of my notice, two legs lose purchase and she holds now with only five. At any moment, she may be gone, swept from the glass by pummeling molecules of air.

Almost automatically, I let up on the gas to give her a chance to regrip. I've six miles to go and she'll never make it. I notice a couple of cars behind me, but I had been exceeding the limit by a few mph, so let 'em suffer. At 55 mph we round a curve, the direction of wind shear changing abruptly and - unbelievably - she now holds on by only three legs. How can she possibly do this? What manner of strength and will and magic does she possess? Is this just an average spider? I think: this is a spider worth saving. With two of her tiny legs pinned to one side by the force of air - she reaches and paws, scrambling madly with the remaining three trying to re-establish her hold; I slow to 48 mph.

The two cars behind me have become four; impatient vehicles driven by important people with no time for drama. She's slipping... she pivots and regrips... I nearly lose her just as I see a crossroad ahead and signal to turn right. Several vehicles accelerate around me with attitude as I brake for the turn. Even before I come to a complete stop she is scuttling quickly toward the driver's side window. I lose sight of her as I open my door and emerge from the van - and then I see her. She's peering warily from the rubber gasket lining the door frame, front legs raised in a warning gesture. After what she's just endured, who can blame her? Suddenly she makes a run for the edge of the hood and disappears under the rim, sheltered in the mechanism of the wiper blades. Safe.

Springsteen's Hungry Heart is playing as I put the van in gear and we continue on our way...

If I were to write of my philosophy of life, of what is meaningful and important to me, I could not improve upon the following paragraph from Annie Dillard:

There are many things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But - and this is the point - who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go on your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I believe with all my heart that everything wrong with modern civilization has to do with greed. I don't really understand what motivates the extreme desire for more, and more, and ever more. Why does a person with a million dollars need ten million or 50 billion? What can possibly make a baseball player "worth more" than a scientist or poet or even another baseball player? How did our ideas about what we value get so skewed?

One of the lessons I remember well from grade school civics on up to high school American History was that there are supposed to be limits on how much one person or company can control. Whatever happened to the controls on monopolies? Where are the anti-trust controls of old? What happened to fair trade? Why did Sam Walton think he needed not just ten or fifty Wal-Marts, but literally thousands? What drives humans to want more power than they can understand, much less control? If there were five hundred car manufacturers, instead of a handful, would we be bailing them out? If banks and mortgage brokers and financial institutions were truly competitive - truly manageable on a human scale, there would be thousands upon thousands going about their business all over the world. Some would succeed, some might fail - but the failure of one or two or three companies could not panic the rest of the world. We've become a population of billions controlled by a few concerned only with the present and with themselves. With great power over great numbers comes anonymity. With anonymity comes abuse.

Manifest destiny is a lie. Free enterprise is a broken promise. Bigger is better is an oxymoron. I say we need to think small. Smaller populations; smaller companies, smaller cars, smaller growth, smaller salaries (for anyone making more than say, the president...) smaller desires, smaller houses .

Think big? Nah. Give me the small pleasures.

Six folksy chicks found at a flea market for $1 each. One of life's little pleasures...


  1. Terrific post! Love the story about the spider. I had a grasshopper stay on my windshield for 45 minutes while I flew on the expressway one time. He too, made it all the way home!

  2. I too love the story about the spider, you made it very compelling.

    I also totally agree with the quote about the pennies and your thoughts there. I've never understood greed either.