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Monday Photo Meditation: Weaving Hopes and Dreams

Grandmother Orb Weaving Resized

It’s a signifier of how thoroughly colonized our discourse is that I know, beyond any doubt, that anyone reading this today fully expects that I will write about issues associated with the date.

Instead, I’m going to speak about their transcendence.

When even the renaming is fundamentally a counterpoint to the original naming, a striking back against it, an act of resistance that is necessarily rooted in the colonialism that begets it? Not this year. This year, Wings and I will celebrate instead: rejoice in our shared survival, and more, in the thriving of our communities and cultures. In the face of genocide, surviving is its own act of resistance; ongoing, on a scale that encompasses more than half a millennium? It is the fulfillment of hopes, the realization of dreams, of ancestors and spirits alike.

And that is cause for joy.

On this cold and blustery October day, as the wind blows snowclouds ever nearer, we share space with the avatar of one such spirit: our Grandmother Spider. In the way of my own people, she is a wise and nurturing spirit, one who saved the people by showing them the road back to sleep and sanity, harmony and health, by following the good road and by weaving guardian gateways for their own dreams.

Our neighbor spirit lives just outside the front door, in a corner of the overhang above the ramp. She had initially made her home further inward, in the coiled embrace of a single short length of piñon branch, and spun her web in an outward radius. A late-season nighttime hailstorm damaged the web, and she relocated to a safer corner, where she fulfills her name and identity nightly.

She is a tropical orb weaver, a large and spiky golden-colored spider native to Gulf Coast and Caribbean climes. Her kind is unknown here, singular sightings apparently seen only as far inland as Dallas and as far north as Maryland, while her relations have also been found spreading down from Colombia and Venezuela to the southern tip of Brazil. But she is the second of her kind to take up residence with us since midsummer; a sibling, or perhaps a distant cousin, spun a web on the outside of the window off the guest room of the house, upstairs.

This one has set up housekeeping much closer to us on a day to day basis, and she ventures out occasionally to hover when we are near. She seems comfortably at home with us, neither threatened nor threatening, simply going about her life as we go about ours. She also seems remarkably forgiving of my human clumsiness: Her kind are known for the large, extensive, and elaborate orb-like webs, made from a combination of regular spider silk and extra-sticky silk, and some nights, she extends her web well beyond her corner to stretch across the overhang — where I promptly run into its invisible strands when I come outside at dawn to pray.

Because Spider Woman is a Grandmother spirit, and because we credit her with saving the people when they had fallen off the good road and lost both their sleep and their senses to the nightmares then allowed to reach them, she is owed respect. And so I apologize to her when I wreck the further reaches of her web, and she gazes at me silently, but seems distinctly untroubled by all of it.

A couple of weeks ago, powerful lines of storms drove through the area several nights running, and one night, we were awakened by a sudden and very bad leak in the roof. It required immediate attention, and we were up most of the rest of the night, sleep out of reach. It was thus perhaps fitting that, having ventured outside for a moment during a break in the storm, we should have seen our visiting elder hard at work rebuilding her web — the same web she gave to our people to create the dreamcatcher, to filter bad dreams from good and permit the people to sleep undisturbed by nightmares.

In those dark overnight hours, we would find little sleep, but we were granted a stunningly beautiful image, one that she permitted Wings to capture up close: of Grandmother Orb Weaver lowering herself from the roof on a single silvery thread, the better to weave the radiating orb of her own small world around her. It was as though she were weaving hopes and dreams — her own, and ours with them.

It has since struck me that her work is a perfect metaphor for our people’s existence. Every breath we are permitted is a hope of the ancestors fulfilled; every day we live to follow our path around the hoop is their dream realized anew. Our own path, our own work, weaves its own web, too — one of protection, of sustenance, of that liminal space between worlds that ensures our continued survival. And we are weaving hopes and dreams, too: a web to protect our children, a better world for the generations f children yet unborn.

We owe much to Grandmother Spider, including honor and respect. We do well, also, to follow her example.

~ Aji






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