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My Spider Teacher

My 4 year old son is fascinated with spiders. He loves reading books and watching documentaries about spiders. And most of all, he loves looking for spiders in the backyard.

He knows all the different spiders in our backyard, what species they are and where they set up their webs. He has also picked up on some of their interesting habits and behaviours.

One of the spiders we have named Cliff, the clothesline spider. Cliff curls up and hides away in the clothesline during the day. Then comes out each night to build a large and very impressive web. Cliff hates his web getting messy and removes every piece of grass or leaf which we throw on his web (it's a bit mean I know).

At the end of the night, the spider packs up the web and eats it, along with his insect catch for the night.

Spider city in our lemon tree

Because of my son's fascination with spiders, I've come to appreciate how amazing these creatures are and the important role they play in nature.

For example, our lemon tree looks like spider city, with messy webs everywhere. These spiders provide an amazing service, protecting the lemon tree from insects from gall wasps, stink bugs and fruit flies.

Nature provides balance if you don't intervene

Where there are lots of insects, spiders will come. And if the spiders are left alone, they help bring things back into balance. It's certainly not fool proof, but I've noticed that the spiders make a huge difference. 

My octopus teacher

I didn't really think much about my son's spider fascination, until I watched a documentary on Netflix: My Octopus Teacher.

This is a documentary about a man who started diving in the Great African Sea Forest, to regain purpose in his life and as a way of dealing with exhaustion and burnout.

While diving (he ends up diving every day for a year), he develops a relationship with an octopus.

This octopus completely changes his perspective on life and his relationship with the natural world and other people. Here are some quotes from the documentary which capture some of these lessons:

"I Came to realize how vulnerable wild animals are. How vulnerable all our lives are."
"It taught me to be more sensitized to the other, especially wild creatures"
"It made me realize just how precious wild places are"
"I started to care about all animals, even just the tiniest little animals"

And the key message that I took from this documentary, is captured by this quote:

What she taught me was, to feel that you are part of this place not a visitor. That's a huge difference

After watching this documentary, I realized my son's experience with spiders was similar to this in many ways.

Do you feel like a visitor on this planet?

When it comes to nature and the wild, I certainly do. It's a strange thought, but it just shows how disconnected we are from the natural world.

This disconnect is impacting the health and well being of humanity and the natural world. It has made it harder for us to empathize with nature and care about it. As a result, nature is being treated as something that's expendable.

But nature is not expendable. It's our home and we rely on it 100% for survival. Mother nature provides fresh water, food and clean air, which are essential for human health and survival.

This is really obvious, I know!

But the truth is, in the past I never gave it a second thought. That's because there's a massive difference between learning from theory and practice. 

Learning from theory vs practice

Something you learn from theory, never fully sinks in. But when you are are fully immersed in an experience with all your senses, it connects with you at a much deeper level and has time to really enter your consciousness.

I've found that deeply connecting with the natural world makes me think very differently about how we consume natural resources. It makes me think carefully about what this incredible living planet is giving to us and how we can have more appreciation and respect for it.

Our most intimate connection with nature

Food is one of the most intimate links we have with nature. Every day we put a piece of nature in our mouth, which gives us energy.

A deeper connection with the food we eat is one of the easiest ways we can reconnect with nature. Some practical ways you can reconnect with food and where it comes from:

  • Start growing and producing food at home. A vegetable patch, herbs, fruit trees, chickens, worm farms.
  • Join a local community garden
  • Be more aware of the ecosystem of plants, animals, insects and micro-organisms in your garden and how you can let nature provide balance and do the work for you
  • Cook more food at home
  • Find a local farmers market
  • Visit a local farm
  • Learn more about where your food comes from and how it's produced.

If you have any other ideas or experiences in connecting with nature and food, please share it by leaving a comment below.

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  • Erich Wittig says:

    Marcus, you bring up some valid points. I, for one, will make a concerted effort to be more aware of my natural surroundings. Thank you!

    • Thanks Erich – great to hear it inspired you in some way! I will be interested to hear how you go.

  • I absolutely love this. After watching My Octopus Teacher (filmed in my home city, Cape Town) I was left thinking: How does this affect my life? If felt so nice to watch, but what do i do with this feeling? Your article is exactly the type of thing I was looking for. The way you laid out your personal discovery through your son is just wonderful and now I have not just “food for thought”, but points to take action on. Off to the farmers market I go…

    • Thanks Dean! Enjoy the farmers markets

  • Evelyn Kaeser says:

    Dear Marcus, thank you for this great heart touching posting. What a marvelous father you are! And what a lovely curious little guy and teacher your son is! I have a spider city in the foxtail palm in front of my house. Will watch them now with different eyes!
    I love connecting to the plants around the house by gently sweeping with the fingers over the leaves to smell them or pick some leaves to nibble on them for the taste.

    • Thanks Evelyn! When my son shows an interest in something – I try and feed that interest. And as you say, he is a good teacher because I also learn a lot from him.

  • Dear Marcus,
    Instead of the comment, a beautiful poem by a Serbian poet called Branko Miljkovic (1934-1961) translated by Nenad Ilic

    Poem about a teeny flower

    One teeny flower
    Still his first words has not said
    And already knew all enigmas of the Sun
    And the secrets which soil may shed.

    One teeny flower
    On his feet hasn’t yet stood
    And already could nurture himself
    With light, air and water as food.

    One teeny flower,
    To read and write he can’t do
    But well knows life, knows the world
    And he wafts, wafts a scent so true.

    Whether it’s a small flower, a spider or an octopus … Life is a miracle!
    Nice greeting,

    • Thanks so much for sharing! I agree – life is a miracle indeed

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