Life’s little dramas

Outside the library, a drama is unfolding.  A crow perches on an aerial, complaining loudly.  Two jackdaws watch from the roof and  a herring gull peers down from a chimney.  At intervals, the crow flies towards the building and back again, still calling; a posse of more jackdaws and gulls appear.  The sky churns with black and white bodies, circling the top of the building.  I don’t know whose drama this is.  Perhaps the crow has a nest nearby that is being threatened, perhaps the threat is from the crow himself.  I know something is going on, but I don’t understand it.

In the park, I walk into another drama.  A blackbird cries alarm relentlessly from the hedge.  On the grass, a trail of grey feathers leads to the bloody carcass of a pigeon, abandoned on the ground.  I don’t know what has had the pigeon.  I don’t know if the predator is still around and this is why the blackbird calls, or if there is another, unseen threat.

Outside the supermarket, I sit in the sun eating a sandwich on my lunch break.  Beside me on the bench, a pair of hoverflies entwine.  They stay there, seemingly motionless, until my sandwich is gone.  Suddenly, the male moves off, flying drunkenly to another part of the bench.  He lurches twice into the air and back down again, before he is able to fly away.  The female, meanwhile, calmly grooms herself.  After a while, she rises up, hovers in my face for a few seconds as if to scold me for my voyeurism, then she too is gone.

In the garden, my laundry births spiders.  On the duvet cover hung on the line this morning, a patch of spiderlings, each one a few millimetres long, huddles in a circle.  They begin to scatter as soon as they feel my touch on the fabric.  Their mother will have died in the autumn, leaving an egg sac.  I don’t know whether the sac was attached to the washing line or blew onto the duvet cover from elsewhere, but they have hatched there in the few hours the laundry was outside.  I gently transfer those that haven’t already escaped onto a garden table.  Within seconds, a thread has been launched from table to chair to the nearest plant and I watch a procession of tiny funambulists beginning their journeys into the world.

Sometimes I think that despite all our distractions humans are the loneliest species on the planet.  Lonely because we stand outside of nature.  Because we don’t know our place in the world.  A spider knows what it is born for.  It instinctively knows what to do with its life.  Whereas we, with all our choices, find it difficult to grasp the meaning of them.  Spring takes place all around us.  The trees know that they must clothe themselves in leaves.  The flowers know that they must sprout.  The birds know that they must nest.  And when spring comes, we feel the call to action too, but we don’t know what to do with it.

I can’t grasp the dramas that are taking place because I’ve lost the language for it.  I can observe, try to understand, but I can’t feel that imperative of life and death that the rest of the earth surely feels.  I will always be outside the drama because my human mind wants to label and compartmentalise.  My human mind says that laundry is no place for the birth of spiders, but to the spiders is it just a part of their world.  Yet I feel joy when I witness some of nature’s tiny dramas.  I feel lucky to have been given a glimpse of them.  I feel part of the world, not apart from it.  And I make sense of them by writing them down.  Perhaps to understand them, perhaps to feel closer to them – not as a scientist, but as someone affected by the emotion of that moment.

Writing is my connection to the earth.  Paradoxical maybe, because describing things with language can distance us from them.  But I always feel most connected when the writing is flowing – whether from the pen or brewing in my mind.  Perhaps because this creativity comes from something in the earth.  Our first stories were ways of making sense of our place in the world.  Creation myths that explained how we got here.  Stories that helped us to understand the weather and the workings of the natural world.  And who is to say the song of a bird isn’t his story, or the dance of a bee isn’t hers?  A story is more than words, it is a connection.  The best stories remind me that my life has never been lived outside the world, but always as just another little drama within the whole.

90 thoughts on “Life’s little dramas

  1. Your “procession of tiny funambulists” completely made my day… I can’t get enough of how encountering nature (just like you say, as if it’s some place we visit rather than completely surrounding us even in the city) can totally reorder one’s plans. The day before yesterday I went out to lie on the hammock in the garden and found that some unknown species of spider had spawned what seemed to be thousands of golden little spiderlings (I love that too) between the hammock and the pergola it’s suspended from. I painstakingly shifted all the webs, trying to be gentle, all the while thinking how amazingly beautiful the little creatures were, like a mass of golden seeds, glinting in the sun. When they instantly started reattaching their lines to the hammock, I just sat down on it for a minute and laughed, and said, “OK you win: it’s all yours!” and just found a less popular place to perch and write. That night it stormed, and yesterday there was not a trace of any of those spiderlings; the rain, nowhere near concerned about being gentle, had washed them out. Life’s little dramas indeed… 🙂

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    • Yep, they made my day – probably my month! And they’re no respecters of where we think they should be and shouldn’t! My garden that evening was full of tiny webs with tiny spiders – some have disappeared, but there are some left that I hope will grow up and have their own spiderlings there 🙂

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  2. For heavens sake, your lyrical writing touched my heart once again. I love reading what you write. I know our styles are different, but sometimes I wish I had this kind of flowing, magical talent. You put me right/write into nature and made me feel understood as a human being.

    I have two major fears in life, claustrophobia and spiders. Ack. I got the heebie jeebies when I a saw and read about them. Then, you used them to make a beautiful point. I agree, that humans must be the loneliest species on earth. So many of us make decisions straight from our emotions instead of from instinct. I actually drafted a post (a while ago) about this very thing…making decisions using emotion vs.intuition. I haven’t posted it yet, concerned about offending someone. You’ve put it so tastefully here. Thank you.

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  3. Your writing is beautiful, Andrea. I love the spiderlings and your description of them. I saw that here one year, watching as a group of tiny, light green spiders traversed the threads from lawn chair to porch rail.

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  4. What a fabulous post, Andrea! The little dramas of life. Wonderful observations and yes, nature has no idea (nor care) for how they take over the joint. And I love that

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  5. Andrea, I love how you observe nature and make it so relatable even for people who (it’s hard to believe, but there are such people!) don’t like being outside. I can’t say if I feel like my writing is part of a larger whole, but reading definitely can make me feel that way. I suppose it’s because I’m too close to the writing; I can “sense” when the writing’s not working, but obviously that’s not objective, so I seek approval/feedback/validation from without. These animals and settings you’ve described might seem mundane to some people, but again, you invest them with extraordinary powers to capture the imagination, thanks to your writing. This was meant to be a short comment . . . but bravo! Beautiful, lyrical writing and philosophical outlook as always, Andrea!

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  6. “I can’t grasp the dramas that are taking place because I’ve lost the language for it.” Your words make me wonder. Humans are considered the more advanced forms of life, from a food-chain perspective at least. But which creatures really understand the workings of the world?

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  7. Thanks for sharing and weaving your own story Andrea. I resonate with the feeling of loneliness (and delight in nature). Then I wonder if that is on purpose so we learn the value of connecting in love with people and the bigger world. Maybe that is our place in the world.

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  8. I love this, Andrea. You remind me – once again – of our recent polar bear visit. As terrifying as such an encounter might have played out with the threat of danger to humans, we cannot forget that the polar bear is simply doing what polar bears do, swimming and floating amongst ice pans and foraging for food. And just as the bees and spiders know what they have to do to survive, so does the bear.

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  9. What a lovely post this is, Andrea. I so enjoyed each of the little nature dramas you discovered and photographed, and I agree – we, as humans, are so often disconnected from this simple, natural world all around us. It’s sad, really. But if we, as writers and photographers/artists, continue to do what we do then we keep that connection as you so beautifully describe, and maybe – just maybe – open up that world a little wider for others to peek in and discover or rejoin.

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  10. Thank you, Andrea. I enjoyed this musing and the images that allow a portal into this corner of our amazing planet. I, too, smiled at the tiny funambulists on the laundry — and your telling of how you carefully transported those who hadn’t already relocated themselves.That alone speaks of some remembering of our place in the greater web of things, connected rather than severed and apart. I appreciate that Mystic’s sensibility and awe of interconnection! Thanks again for sharing.

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  11. Beautiful. I love the connection to nature through animals and trees most. I just read a book that makes me realize that I need to spend more time observing nature. It’s not something one can capture in a quick glance, all the little dramas, etc. I plan to blog about the book I read eventually.

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  12. I was in Niagara Falls, Canada yesterday for a meeting. I spent the whole day listening to others discuss important matters, noting their comments and looking wistfully outside at the New York side of the falls. All day long (this was Memorial Day weekend in the states) people filed down a twisting path to gaze at the beautiful water smashing into the river gorge. Above them, a helicopter flew touring wealthy tourists, and on the river a boat carrying raincoated people to and from the American to the Canadian falls and back. On the main street adjacent to my hotel is the “strip” – a ghastly array of wax museums, casinos, duty free shops, arcades, rides, Ripley’s Believe It or Not show/museum, neon signs, motorcycles roaring up and down, the smell of cotton candy, the stench of diesel fumes from stuffed tour buses. I wondered all day long what this place looked like in 1867 and how it would have developed differently in a different culture. It is shocking our disconnection from nature. Yet something draws people to the falls – then they get bored and need neon. Whew. That was quite a rant, all from your lovely and thought provoking post.

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  13. “Sometimes I think that despite all our distractions humans are the loneliest species on the planet.” I agree. In fact, not too long ago, I was thinking that we are the most disconnected species, speaking about being being the most unconscious about our connectedness. Lovely piece, as always.

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  14. In recent years I’ve grown to delight in the works of Wordsworth,Coleridge, Clare, Keats and, more recently, Richard Jefferies. Like others, I do enjoy your own poetic posts. At best I want to be able to feel the beauty of the natural world, looking ‘with the eyes of the heart’ as these great poets did. Thank you again for your posts and for your support for my blog. It has been a great encouragement.
    –Richard

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  15. When we consider the life and death dramas of the natural world, it makes me wonder why we humans go about creating petty dramas for ourselves! I wonder if the connection you feel when you write doesn’t come from the intentionality of it all–the conscious looking for words to describe an experience and emotions. For me, thinking “how would I describe this to re-create the sound/smell/sight?” makes me hone in on the specialness of the moment. I’m not sure I’m making any sense but I did love this post of yours!

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    • True, our dramas are often petty next to the life and death struggles of nature and those that live in parts of the world where there is real struggle. Yes, I think there’s a level of experiencing something in the moment and then seeing its meaning afterwards.

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  16. I love this post, but you know I love all your posts, Andrea 🙂 If I’m guessing, it was a fox that got the pigeon, and the blackbird is warning its feathered friends that there is cat on the prowl.

    I’ve just read a novel that might interest you. “Micro” was an unfinished book by Michael Crichton that was found on his PC after his death. A science writer of non-fiction was given the job of completing it, which means that the novel does read a bit like a science textbook in places, but it’s a fascinating story that takes you right into the world of microscopic creatures, insects, bats, and birds, to mention a few. Imagine being shrunk down to the size of an insect and having to survive in that world. It’s a real eye-opener to read, and somehow Mother Nature ended up seeming less tender and motherly, and more savage than before. Nevertheless, in knowing this, it didn’t in the least diminish my admiration of her workings. I finished reading the novel several weeks ago, but can’t stop thinking about it.

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    • Thanks Sarah, it could well have been a fox as there was no head, which I believe is often a sign of a fox kill. The book sounds very interesting, I’ve added it to my wish list! I do sometimes despair at what seems like savagery in nature and I wonder how it’s possible for wildlife to live when they have so much to fear, but I suppose it’s like anything else and the fear is only part of the whole.

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  17. Mesmerisingly beautiful writing, Andrea! You are right in saying that many of us have lost the ability to connect with nature and feel separate from it. We are for ever looking forward to the next event instead of living in the moment and looking and seeing all that is around us. Your photographs are wonderful as ever.

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  18. Andrea, your beautiful lyrical reflections touches my heart. Your writing brings me to the moment…of watching the spiderlings traverse their thread, to the birds cawing, to the tender leaves unfurling on the trees. Sometimes I feel the only place I am connected is outside, witnessing part of nature but yes, how to stop that compartmentalising, analysing and just be part of it all. There are some wonderful phrases in this post, light and pure and full of truth. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts…bringing me down from the lonely human to nature and its wildlife. 😀❤️

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  19. Pingback: 1051. The happiness of predictability | Weave a Web

  20. Your eye for the smallest details of nature is always to be admired. The idea of spiders and other beasties accepting our presence and structures as part of their world is fascinating, something I’ve not often thought about. They don’t mess about though, those spiders really get on with it.

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  21. OK, Andrea Stephenson: how do you write so beautifully? So soulfully?
    Reading this, I am totally absorbed as I observe what you observe. And then when you pose your questions at the end, I find myself nodding or stopping to think some more.

    Well done, my friend. Well done.

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  22. “Sometimes I think that despite all our distractions humans are the loneliest species on the planet. Lonely because we stand outside of nature. Because we don’t know our place in the world.”
    This hits home so much, Andrea. Moreover since I read Untamed by Will Harlan. His book is about Carol Rucksdeschel, a very unique woman, who chose from a very young age to live as close as possible to nature. Her attempts to live in Atlanta, for example, have been a disaster. She’s still currently living on Cumberland Island on the coast of Georgia. The story is extraordinary and the book impeccably researched and gorgeously written. Parts of it are about this woman’s fight to keep the island wild. Most of the book, though, is about our disconnect with nature, while nature is all we should care about and desire.
    I’m almost 100% sure that you would find lots of moments in the book that echo your thoughts and feelings, Andrea.
    Beautiful post and gorgeous photos.

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  23. Your descriptions and photos here are delightful, Andrea. What I love most about nature is being in the dramas, seeing that all of life to every living creature is a story–the goals and triumphs and everything in between. They take me out of my own dramas, and remind me of the endless beauty of life on earth. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

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  24. This is so, so, true: “… instinctively knows what to do with its life. Whereas we, with all our choices, find it difficult to grasp the meaning of them.” Such conflict and uncertainty can breed a sense of failure that is hard to overcome. Spring, while joyful in some obvious ways, does carry a weird sadness for me. Perhaps you have opened a window to that mystery.

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  25. Love this and I wholeheartedly agree, Andrea. We – our generation and our kids esp – have become so disenfranchised from the world around us and ourselves. Kids are glued to their iSomething on the playground, their growing bodies forgetting what it is to race and jump. We don’t stop to listen to our own body, can’t decipher it anymore. I appreciate the connection of creativity to the Earth that reminds me of the womb.

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  26. I loved this nature tale and it made me wonder at what drama was unfolding in the birds’ lives. You have a way of touching on the things that are so hard to put into words and you do it beautifully. I think sometimes too many choices makes it hard to choose.

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  27. Oh, you caught me on the right week. Or the wrong week, depending on how you look at it. The huge, nasty hawk nesting nearby took one of the baby robins I’ve been anxiously watching in its nest. I knew the mother built the nest too far out on a limb. Not enough cover. Despite my yelling and clapping, and Bailey’s barking–the hawk flew away with one. I still have a family in my back tree that seems safer. My neighbor said, “Oh, Kristine, it’s just nature.” Still can’t get used to it. I get too involved in the dramas . . . On another note–I love your new widget–What I’m Reading! Will give me some good ideas, I’m sure:).

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    • No, it’s sometimes hard to watch nature. The goldfinch nest I found in a tree in the park disappeared, with just a single feather hanging from the branch – I fear the gulls or the jackdaws got it.

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  28. I’ve been watching the birds and spiders lately too (and I love your funambulist description). It’s true that we don’t let ourselves become part of nature often enough, even though we already are part of nature. We like to think of ourselves as separate for some reason, but the times that can bring the most joy are when we’re not separate at all.

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  29. We’ve just come back from being in Bristol for a few days and as we were unloading the car feeling distinctly sweaty and grumpy we were met by a great tit sitting in one of our window boxes. A lovely moment that lifted our spirits!

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