A curious thing happened yesterday as I walked my dog along the coyote trail near our house. Okay, so we're not even supposed to be back there and I always feel a pang of guilt as I step across the threshold with the sign that reads "No Trespassing - No Exceptions." There's an old-timer who lives across the street from the entrance and he and I always nod and say kind good mornin's to one another as we pass with our dogs, and he's told me he knows the owner and for our purposes, it's okay, so I trust that.
Gibby and I have seen lizards and coyotes and trilling birds among the coastal oaks and rustling grasses, and I try not to tamper with any of it, because I love the way it is back there, natural and untamed. I tend to stay on the pebble path and keep my dog in line (as much as you can with a not-the-brightest-in-the-litter yellow lab) and walk for about 10 minutes in, then 10 minutes back to the entrance, then go over the hill and back home. In the same amount of time, I could walk from my house onto the neighborhood streets, past the citrus trees and horse corrals and busy high school traffic and barking German shepherd, and get my mail at the bottom of the hill and get a booty workout as I climb back up to our house. And, more often than not, I do just that.
But yesterday was cold and a little foggy, sorta mysterious, a perfect day for walking alone with a dog on the trail. We were early, but the old-timer was already finishing up his walk while discussing business on his cell phone. He nodded to me and moved the phone from his ear a moment. "Mornin'," he said. "Have a good one."
I nodded back and Gibby and I started on our way. As an experiment, I let Gibby off his leash -- I'd done it once before and he'd taken off like a rocket after God-knows-what, but it had been a while and I thought it might be nice to let him have his own experience, without being led here and there by a wishy-washy master who's just learning the ropes of having a dog. Quietly, he ran from side to side on the path, grazing on the grass, peeing where he saw fit, checking up on me occasionally and then running toward the next tree or bush.
Unencumbered by dog leash or iPhone (I'd forgotten it at home), I wandered up the path until I could see the house at the end of the road. Gibby and I turned around and made our way back as the sun began to warm the foggy canyon. He scampered behind me while I listened to the sound of my shoes crunching the gravel. And then I saw what looked like an eye staring at me: a spiderweb artfully woven into a triangular eye in the dead limbs of a bush.
At first, I kept trudging past. But then, because of my age and my increasing recognition of the ephemeral nature of life, I circled back and stood in front of the bush. The crazy thing was not that I saw a spiderweb eye in the middle of this bush, or that it was one of only a handful of webs on any of the thousands of bushes along the path, but that there was a matching eye on an adjoining limb. When I took a little step backward, it looked like two eyes peering at me, and I could even fashion an imaginary nose and mouth from lower branches. Behind this "face," the sun was peeking out from the tip of the hill, sending luminous rays through the fog, the kind you'd see in a kid's drawing, like yellow lines from a friendly sun-face.
I meant to laugh it off -- I mean, lately I have to admit to feeling a little wacko finding the spiritual nature of everything, from a snapdragon sprouting through our front porch concrete to the pink clouds rolling in the sunset at night -- but if this is all there is, then I had to drink it in. I stood for a long time, admiring the way the spider had created this seemingly simple design, Charlotte-style. I wondered if it was God speaking to me without words. I thought to myself, "Does this mean I'm on the right path?" Meaning my work, my life, my purpose, everything. I stood there for so long that even my dog clambered over to see what was happening. He waggled his head from me to the bush, trying to make a connection, then sort of shook it all off, the weight of this moment, and, remembering he was leash-free, took off on a merry jaunt ahead of me and God.
I wished I'd had my iPhone with me so that I could take a picture (the pic at the beginning of this post, of an oak along the path, was taken last week). But then again, if I'd had it with me, I may have been too engrossed in a podcast or a pop song to have noticed. I vowed to go back again today and take a photo. But of course, it was gone. The entire thing seemed to have been created, just for me, just for that moment.
Luckily, I had stood there for so long yesterday that the image is burned in my mind and will, I'm sure of it, take on mythic proportions as I remember it in the future. And it got me thinking about a craft I'd made at my friend Sheryl's house, weaving yarn around sticks to create little hanging designs called God's Eyes. I may never look at them in the same way.