Every year at about this time, spiders build a community of webs on my ninth floor balcony. For a while I wasn't sure why they did this; then I realized that late September always brings clouds of tiny flies that are drawn to the lights and fruits in my apartment. The clever spiders climb up the building in the hope of capturing an easy meal.
A couple of weeks ago on a particularly warm evening, I approached my window air conditioner to bask in the cool breeze—but what I saw dangling on the other side of the window gave me a much deeper chill. Suspended in the center of an elaborate web was one of the biggest, hairiest, most intimidating spiders I had ever laid eyes on. His home stretched on for miles(at least a spider's equivalent), putting all of his neighbors' efforts to shame. I knew right then and there that I had come face to face with the leader of the spider community.
After taking a few deep breaths I moved in for a closer look, pressing my nose right up to the glass.
I was sitting alone by the pool last summer when Carol, the building superintendent, came crashing through the gate. With her hands on her hips, she stood near the shallow end for a good minute, shaking her head and quietly cussing at the water. I braced myself before saying "hello".
“I have to do this three times a day,” she groaned. “Clean all these damn tree droppings out of the pool.” Carol yanked the massive net off the fence and began combing the surface of the water, a bobbing bed of beetles, twigs, and seeds. “It would suit me just fine to cut down all the trees around here. Pave over all of them.” I wondered if she had forgotten the name of our residence: Geneva on the Park.
“Trees are very important,” I said. “We need them in order to breathe.”
“Well they're makin' a mess of the pool and the parking lot. Have you seen the roots ripping through the concrete?”
“I don't think nature is trying to inconvenience you. It's just doing what it's been doing for billions of years,” I said.
Just before Carol could respond, a long screech from the sky caught our attention.
It's not always easy to be present, to shut off the running commentary in my head and perceive with absolute clarity. The seriousness of life can be quite pressing. But standing here in the heart of the forest, far away from the thought-congested human world, my mind becomes quiet. So quiet.
All I hear is the sound of life around me—a chorus of chirping, clicking, and skittering feet. Each sound that plays with my eardrums stirs childlike fascination. My eyes dart around in search of their source only to catch tips of tails and feathers in the foliage.
I draw and release a deep breath … then another.
Autumn's fragrance fills my nose. Sweet notes of decay linger long after exhale. And with every breeze I am treated to a shower of falling leaves, each one in a slow, graceful dance with gravity. I watch their descent in silence.
High above me, beams of sunlight peek through the amber loft, casting warmth upon leaf-littered soil. Every beam contains a flurry of suspended particles that seem to come from another dimension. I wonder if they arrived with the light, or if they were here all along and the light is just revealing them.
With my eyes closed and chin raised I move under one of the beams, bathing my face with the sun's energy. The sensation is so pleasurable that I'm quite literally frozen in heat. I don't want to move. Tingles run along my skin, evoking a feeling of joy.
I take a few more deep breaths before opening my eyes to look around.
Many trees stand tall and proud, ancient guardians of the land. Each of their limbs has its own ecosystem. Some are covered with soft emerald carpets, others with webs that glisten in the sunlight. Older trees have toppled over, roots plucked from the dirt, hollowed flesh now home to those that lurk in the shadows. Tiny mushrooms push through blackened bark like buttons on a raincoat. Life emerging from death.
As I quietly reflect upon the natural world, there is a moment where my awareness shifts into total stillness. My mind goes silent. Suddenly, everything around me sheds a label and definition, becoming so much deeper than any thought can express. I can sense the aliveness of the forest, the nameless essence of life itself. It is everywhere. My surroundings regain a newness, a mystery, as though I'm seeing it all for the very first time.
Within the stillness a calm washes over me. Life is no longer serious. The worries and concerns that normally weigh me down evaporate, and what is considered so important in the human world is revealed as insignificant.
All that is real, all that truly matters, exists in the stillness of this moment.