Equinox at the Cave
There are cobwebs everywhere when I move through from the long dark tunnel and into the subdued light of the cave.
At first I think this is simply because it’s been so long since I’ve been here but as I look around, I realise that the place is different from when I was last here. The light streaming into the cave has a mellow, golden tone to it, and the air smells not of sap and spring flowers but of wood-smoke and that spicy, musky odour of fallen leaves. When I get to the entrance, I see there are things waiting for me; this is always the way: I arrive and I find that something has been prepared for me.
In the brisk wind, I see Reindeer waiting at the fire-pit, the breeze ruffling dense fur. I bow my greeting before burying my face in that soft warm fur. It has been too long and I am ashamed of my absence. I had felt unworthy to come here, laden and burdened with anger and a desire to hurt those who had hurt me, so my visits stopped. I did not wish to pollute this sacred space with my pain, though surely I should have known it would heal me to be here. I am a fool.
I feel a touch and I look up; the great soft muzzle has nudged me to alertness and with one unmistakable gesture I am directed to investigate the things left at the entrance. I get to my feet but as I move, I sense Reindeer getting up and moving away. The pile of objects left for me are puzzling and delightful. The first is a heap of pebbles, white quartzite polished to a sheen, each so large I cannot close my fingers around it. They are heaped upon a folded blanket of crimson and other colours. There is a design woven into it but I cannot interpret the figure in the middle. The wool is dense and soft and will be very warm. The final item is a long plush feather, barred in beige and white; by the feel I think it may be from an owl.
I am alone. My guardian spirit is close by and I know I am safe as the sun dips below the horizon, far off beyond the endless forest that stretches out below my ledge. I set to and light the fire, feeding it with the pine cones that litter the pure white sand around me. One by one, as the sky turns darker, the stars emerge, pinpoints of brilliant white light in a velvet canopy. The night is cool, and is becoming colder, so I fetch the blanket and wrap myself in it and I sit close to the fire.
My head nods and I have to stop myself falling into a dream state. Perhaps I have for as I gaze into the fire, I see eyes gazing back at me from the other side of the fire-pit. At first I think my guardian has returned but then I see that there are not two eyes but eight that watch me, without blinking. In the dancing shadows I see that my new companion is a being that baffles all comprehension.
As the light flickers, she too flickers, changing from one form to another. At one moment she is a an elderly woman, her face stern and wise and webbed by lines of experience that make her visage more beautiful than a smooth young face could be. At another moment I see a vast Spider, lovely but alien and strange. Perhaps I should be afraid but I am not; instead I am simply overwhelmed with the honour of this visitor.
“Greetings, Grandmother,” I say, bowing, even though I sit cross-legged and swathed in my blanket.
She bows back and we sit, facing each other through the fire, companionable but silent. I do not know what to say and I wait for her to speak. As my Elder, she must have come with a message, but for a long while she sits, her hands moving but her voice stilled. Gradually I see that she is weaving, or perhaps knitting, and her clever fingers are creating something out of yarn.
The night draws on and I am glad of the fire. My legs grow stiff, and reluctantly I get to my feet to stretch them.
“Bring the stones.”
Her voice is melodic and sweet, but it makes me jump because I had begun to think she would not speak at all.
Bringing a few at a time, I carry all the pebbles to the fire side and when I offer to bring them to her, she shakes her head. She had settled on form and much of me is relieved that she has chosen to remain as Grandmother, leaving her Spider form. I settle down again and look at her, quizzically.
“Build me a tower with the stones,” she asks.
The stones are too rounded, surely, but I obey and time and time again, I manage to balance one pebble on another, and sometimes even a third, yet always, the fourth one’s placing causes the tower to tumble. She laughs, as a mother might at a child’s folly.
I drop the stones and lower my head, feeling my cheeks redden and I struggle to force the anger down again.
“I can’t,” I say. “I can’t.”
“I can,” she says, and when I glare at her, my eyes filled with skepticism and anger, she laughs again.
“Show me,” I ask, ruder than I ought to be to this Being.
She comes to my side of the fire and I see that she has been weaving a long, thin net. She picks each stone very carefully slides it into the net until it is full and all the stones are contained within it. She holds the end of the net, and the stones jostle for a moment before settling.
“But that’s cheating,” I say, outraged. “It’s not standing by itself, even.”
She laughs and very slowly removes her grip on the net. To my astonishment, the structure remains upright and intact. For about ten seconds, it stands before toppling to one side. Some of the stones spill out.
I am chastened. I do not ask her why she asked me to build an impossible tower, but instead I gather the stones and the net back together and I hold two of the pebbles, one in each hand. They are of the same weight and size and the cool surface of each is a pleasure to touch.
“Not everything must last forever,” she says. “I bound those stones together for a short time. Now those stones are free to be something else.”
I do not understand but I do not really need to; this is something to ponder in the long nights to come. The stars have shifted since I first began my vigil and I sense that we have come to that still point, where for a short time, day and night are of equal length before inexorably, night becomes longer and the days brief and cold. I take the two stones, and I manage to balance one upon the other, and I leave them by the side of the fire-pit. The Being on the other side stands up, her body filled with grace and strength that bely her ancient nature.
“You may bind things together and they may stay bound for a time,” she says. “But having once been bound, they will always remember the binding. It is the remembering that is important. That is my gift.”
She raises a hand and in my mind, I also see her raise palps and she slips away down the trail that begins at the edge of the sand. I sit back down and wait for the dawn. I slip into sleep, and I wake to find Reindeer next to me, my head resting on warm flanks. All around the cave, all over the bushes at the edge of the ledge, are a million webs shining with jewels of dew. The blanket slides off my shoulders as I rise to my feet to stretch, and as I pick it up off the sand to fold it, I see clearly for the first time the design woven into the wool.
A stylised spider sits at the centre of a web whose threads make the words: Grandmother Spider Wove The World.
As I walk back into the cave, I find the feather. I had forgotten this gift and as I lift it to the morning light, I see that the end of the feather is shaped; the hard keratin end has been fashioned into a nib.
“I have no ink,” I say aloud, but Reindeer is asleep and there is no one to answer me.