Beyond fears, new beginnings

The view of Mindo from the lookout, 'El Mirador'

The view of Mindo from the lookout, ‘El Mirador’, on trail #3 at The Yellow House protected forest.

There was no way I could have ever guessed that an encounter with a small spider  six years ago would have changed my life as much as it has.  Like arthropods in need of growing, I’d stepped out from the old skin of baseless fear and gradually uncurled myself into a world brimming with enormous possibilities.

My life has always been fueled by questions, and the desire for varied understandings of the ‘answers’. Existence is dull when your perspective is cloistered and unchallenged.  That tiny salticid proved an unexpected teacher, a lightning bolt from the blue that I’d so desperately needed. In our life we encounter many ‘teacher spiders’, moments that frighten us down to the most primitive parts of our being, make us question the state of our world and the people in it, and most startlingly – ourselves!

I met a lot of amazing people as a result of keeping that spider and others, captive. Sometimes, when I’m alone and thinking about how it all happened, I lose my breath. I realize just how thin the strand I hung on was…how close I was to missing out on the best parts of my life, so far. My thoughts carry on, I explore them and another side of me thinks it was inevitable, that my curiosity and passions would have led me to a similar conclusion.

I’ve come a long way! I’d long dreamed of toting a camera around, chasing bizarre looking creatures in their home territory. I’d pined to capture their likeness in some way, always sketching and painting and studying their anatomy, lifestyles and behavior. Many a night was spent with my eyes glued to a book or documentary, absorbing whatever information I could find to improve my understanding of life on earth. As a kid, I was fearless. I wanted to know things, but knew so little. Life was lived in the moment, in the mystery of every new experience. I have reason to believe this naivete permitted a level of truth, because it was so untouched by laws, facts and opinions. I sensed the presence of seemingly impossible aspects of life and felt truly connected to the grass I ran on, the sopping piles of mud I played with and the bumble-bee perched helplessly in my palm. I remember this tremendous feeling of awe when I was learning to ride a bike for the first time. A neighbors eldest daughter was teaching me to ride increasingly able laps on a basketball court, it was night, but the neon orange street lamps lit the scene around me. In my mind, though, one thing dominated. I could see it looming overhead, in my peripheral vision. This incredible, ethereal stream of white and blue – Comet Hale-Bopp.

It was spectacular. I’ve never felt much of a connection to mysterious, glamorous things like faeries or angels. That comet suited the role. It burned white-hot through the sky on its own volition, beyond the influence of people, beyond my own existence. I spent more time staring at that comet then I did actually riding the bike.

So much of nature if like that, it gives me that feeling. Unfortunately, it isn’t on an independent path, like Hale-Bopp. It’s stuck with us. We smother it in our own struggle for survival, which is altogether too successful.

The thing is, you have to go through that kind of experience to care about something that doesn’t really depend on you. You need the reverence. You need the connection. Humans fret over human issues, stuck in our buildings, and are only just beginning to understand how much of us is tied into the trees, the earth, the water and the air that surrounds us. It is all very obvious, yes, but it gets muddled in the daily grind.

I experienced this the first time James and I worked together to take photos in Mindo, Ecuador, in 2011. On our hike up to the hut in the forest reserve, he’d point out environmental issues that I’d never seen before. Scoping out a smear on the landscape with binoculars (that seemed a sort of appendage, rather than an instrument) he voiced his concerns and told me to take a look. In dreadful clarity, I spied land with forests that had been clear cut as well as patches of growth that had been carelessly managed. We continued on up the mountainside. We soon stepped into the reserve, where a tremendous chorus of life greeted us. This was land that had been permitted to grow unchecked by meddling humans, for the most part. We walked quietly, listening…scanning with hungry eyes. Some time later we arrived in the clearing, settling in at James’s famous hut.

After putting our things away, we began exploring. I searched a tree. In the daytime, you’d see a few things perched on it – maybe a moth, or butterfly or a fly of some kind. For a forest ringing, chirping and buzzing with life, it was often rather difficult to spot things (especially so for a first timer!)

At night, we would go to the same tree that we had looked at in daylight. Suddenly, unusual shapes of all kind became clear. Big, ornate spiders hugged the trunk, carefully positioned. Harvestmen ambled like bobbing wagons about the undulating roots, or deep in the process of feeding on colorful, pulpified who-knows-what’s. There where moths of all kinds with endless shapes, colors and patterns. Crickets, grasshoppers, ants….sometimes frogs! Once the lights went out, this single tree became host to a party of formerly reclusive residents. They owned the night, and the tree.

The more you explore, the more the forest shocks you, the deeper sinks that dreaded reality. When a home burns down, people mourn the loss. You look at the land these trees grow on, you realize how much actually lives there – in the leaf litter, every plant big and small, in the moss, on the bark, on the leaves in the highest canopy…a part of you wants to scream for all that you know is lost. You say to yourself – ‘if people only knew…’

Yes, if people only knew! I think our societies are just beginning to feel the ropes around their necks, as has happened at various points in history in some form or another. Environmental disasters are nothing new, but there is more evidence by the day to support the argument that man has played a heavy hand in it.

Human kind is capable of incredible things, but nature does everything best. Its had millions of years to fine tune itself. Human beings are a blip in the full spectrum of life on planet earth and if people are going to stay on this planet for any significant period of time, we have to face our fears, question the way we currently do things and practice new ways of existing. We will stifle ourselves and this planet if we don’t.

It is only within the past three years that I am feeling the full weight of this predicament. My dream is to work with nature, literally. I know that it is possible. The opportunities are there. My goal is to educate other curious people and to foster an appreciation for the habitats that are home to so many incredible forms of life. Eco-tourism is relatively young, as are perspectives on conservation and ways to work with it. The wonderful thing about Mindo, is that they are doing what they can to bring it all together.

I never imagined that I’d feel that innocent, childlike connection to the world around me again…I really thought I’d lost it. I am so happy to know that it is still there. It just took me a while to rediscover it. My sincere hope is that through writing and various media, as well as interactions with others in the forest itself, that the people I befriend will be compelled to a higher cause, and that they too can reconnect with the mysterious nature of nature.

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One response to “Beyond fears, new beginnings

  1. Congratulations Shannon, what an amazing work, love you sharing your knowledge and pictures, your experiences will help so many to understand the true nature of spider and other creatures. Looks great!

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