Adventures in Nature – what I learned from an orbweaver spider

Have you ever asked anyone in the ‘more-than-human’ world what they can teach you and what they need from you? By ‘more-than-human’, I mean the elements – water, air, fire and earth in all their myriad forms as well as the living beings – the plants and the trees, the microbes, the insects, and the animals.

Too often, we humans think we should have all the answers. We act as if we have to work everything out on our own as if we are the only beings with consciousness. We’re consumed with anxiety about completing our tasks on our never-finished to-do lists. We treat the ‘more-than-human’ beings as inanimate objects to be exploited, used and discarded or protected and saved. But rarely do we consult them and consider that they are sources of wisdom.

The orbweaver spider

This time of year, the orbweavers are festooning the garden with their extravagant webs. I struck up a conversation with a medium sized lady who had hung her web between the Rose of Sharon bush and the maple tree two metres away. The web was low to the ground, just the right height for me to pull up a chair and sit facing her at eye level.

Photo by George Rosema on Unsplash

At first, I was shy and just observed. I had a question for her but didn’t want to interrupt as I could see she was very busy completing her web. The spokes were in place and the threads of the spiral were almost finished except for the final few centimetres in the centre. Undeterred by the wind which blew her back and forth or by my hovering presence, she gracefully used her back two legs to lay a silk thread between two spokes while holding herself in place with her front legs. Then she pinged the thread to distribute the sticky goo evenly and swiftly moved on to the next.

The fly

All of a sudden, a fly landed on the outer edge of the web. Without hesitation, the spider scooted over, wrapped the fly deftly in silk and spent a few brief seconds with her mouth on the cocooned fly. Then she hung it on the thread and returned to complete the inner segments of the web. Only when the web was complete did she go back to eat the fly. After her meal, she settled herself in the centre of the web, head down.

The human

I took the opportunity to introduce myself.

‘Hello, beautiful spider,’ I said, impressed by her markings and striped legs. ‘I’m here in your territory, eager to learn from you. I know very little about the world we share. I don’t even know what questions to ask. Basically, teach me. What do you need from me? How can I best connect with you, heart-mind to heart-mind?’

She was quiet, perhaps thinking how best to answer me. However, I soon got bored and wandered off, lured away by the thought of the tasks on my to-do list. But I soon marched myself back, ashamed of my inability to sit still and centred like the spider.

This time I brought a timer and set it for ten minutes. I made myself sit on the chair for the full ten minutes all the while looking hopefully at the spider. She didn’t move nor did she speak to me. I admired her ability to stay in one spot without once checking to see if any more flies had landed that she might have missed. As for me, my mind was wandering all over the place. I did keep bringing it back but if she had spoken, I’m sure I would have missed it.

The cat

Just as the timer went off, Maggie, (a black cat that allows me to serve her), came up to me. She sashayed by and accidentally knocked a large hole in the web. Horrified, I grabbed her and pushed her out of the way. The spider hid under a leaf. Maggie was still swishing her tail back and forth in annoyance when I gave up and went back to apologise to the spider.

The to-do list

To my surprise, the spider did not accept my apology on Maggie’s behalf. She simply said, ‘I am an orbweaver. This is who I am. This is me.’ She repaired the hole in a short time and once again settled herself, head down, in the centre of the web.

‘Aren’t you devastated that my cat wrecked your perfect web that you just completed?’ I asked, unnerved by her equanimity.

‘Perfect? Wrecked? Completed?’ she asked, waving one of her middle legs in the air. ‘Explain. Translate.’

‘But, but,’ I stammered. ‘You spent so long making it and it was so perfect. I would be devastated if someone wrecked something I’d made just when I’d finally ticked it off my to-do list.’

‘I don’t have a to-do list,’ she said. ‘I only have this moment. And in this moment, I am complete. I have done enough. I am enough. I await the next moment in joy.’

‘I don’t,’ I confessed. ‘I’m always anxious. I’ve never done enough. I am never good enough.’

‘I think you are,’ she said. ‘So does the cat.’

Maggie rubbed against my leg, purring loudly. She jumped onto my lap, turned in a circle and looked at me with love. Tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I felt complete, loved and accepted not only by a spider and a cat but by me.


  1. Mary Montgomery

    I really liked the way in which you and the spider and Maggie, the cat communicate. I found it very moving. So much can be expressed without words. We,as humans, project so much onto each other and onto our fellow beings and spend so much time feeling we haven’t done enough- or we’ve got it wrong.
    I liked the description in the 12 week course you and Maria attend re how failure is so often seen as negative – and yet it is how we learn to overcome obstacles. I love the quote by Samuel Beckett, the Irish Writer….’No matter, try again, fail again, fail better’

    • Lisa Saffron

      Yes, you’ve expressed it so well – we humans project outwards onto each other and onto the ‘more-than-human’ world the stuff we’ve got going on inside. It’s up to us to own our stuff and accept our place in the cycle of life. Not separate and outside but part of it.
      I love the quote by Beckett. I’m putting it on my fridge to remind myself of it daily.
      Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ellen Gittelsohn

    I enjoyed your blog description of watching the spider and the consciousness of animals. Like you and many others, I also struggle with my to-do list and feel calmed through connecting to nature including other animal species. On my early morning walk this week I was startled by a fluttering noise and saw a white owl fly in front of me. After it landed in a tree we looked at each other until I took my phone out of my pocket intending to snap a photo but it flew away while I was trying to focus


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