The other day, as I was walking home, eating blackberries from the hedgerow bushes as I went, I came across a butterfly caught in a spider’s web. It was fluttering frantically, setting up such a tremendous vibration, the web was throbbing with it.
I walked on by.
We’ve often talked (in our family) about the way, when we’re watching animal films, we side with the first creature we are introduced to. If we are presented with a nice white polar bear whose cubs are hungry, we are pleased and relieved when she finds food. If the film starts with a seal, flopping around on the ice or swimming gracefully through the water, we are truly distressed when we see her eaten . . . by the polar bear.
Nature is nature. We mustn’t let our feelings get in the way. The spider would starve if I released all its prey. The butterfly was probably too damaged by its struggles to survive.
I went back and released it and it flew away.
Morally, it seemed the right choice. In most ordinary decisions in a day, I need to respond to my inner callings or I will turn harsh - even if these decisions are illogical or made simply because of the order in which I come across them.
Here is a quote from Benjamin Vogt’s book ‘Sleep, Creep, Leap’.
‘Draped four feet off the ground, between the clump river birch and the verbena, is a web about eighteen inches in diameter. In the middle rests a plump, female yellow spider . . . With another glut of grasshoppers, perhaps holdovers from 2009, I have a great idea. I walk over to the switchgrass, sneak up on a grasshopper, and swiftly close my hand around it. It claws and tickles, then seems to bite at my palm as I rush it over, wildly tossing it into the web. It struggles, and in so doing, drops an inch or two, and almost freeing itself only becomes tangled again . . .’
I thought of the butterfly. But Benjamin is thinking of the spider - and he is sad when the season ends and the empty web is left to rip and disintegrate as winter approaches.
It’s all in the order of things.
I can’t explain why I like this book so much. Its contents are random yet he never rambles. It doesn’t really have a beginning or an end. There’s a sort of beginning when he marries his wife . . . but after that it could be read in any order. It’s a sort of meditation. Poetical but not poetry. Such an approach could be irritating. I am not irritated. I am entranced.
Maybe Benjamin writes like this because he is a blogger. I find myself talking to you - the readers - as I go through the day; as I hack at the honeysuckle, bewail the tomatoes, turn the compost or chuck snails over the wall. All the time I am describing. This is what this book feels like; the discussion which goes on between a blogger and his or her readers, whether they are there or not.
Maybe this is why he dreams of inviting people into his garden even though he is a misanthrope. Inviting people in in one’s thoughts or on a blog is a safe thing to do.
Benjamin’s garden is in Nebraska and, as an English reader, I am very conscious that I am reading about another world. The birds are unfamiliar:
‘Juncos, sparrows, blue jays, house finches, yellow finches, northern flickers, mourning doves, grackles, robins, various woodpeckers . . .’
I know about robins and sparrows - but juncos, flickers and grackles?!
Issues about lawn-mowing . . . has his wife really never heard the word ‘herbaceous’? . . . does he not speak to his neighbours? . . .
There are puzzles.
There’s envy. (I would like, so much, to have a garden as big as he has!)
More envy. (I wish I had his budget!)
More envy. (I wish I had his budget!)
There are trees and plants and garden centres; praise for plants which grow tall; successes, failures, experiments brought back from the brink; enthusiasm for butterflies, birds, seasons . . . . but all in brief because it is a short book.
In this country I can buy Sleep, Creep, Leap for my Kindle but only readers in North America can buy it as a ‘proper’ book as well. (I like Kindles so I’m not too put out. All the same . . . )
Challenging. Entrancing. Worth reading - especially if you want to support fellow bloggers!.
Amazon.co.uk - Sleep, Creep, Leap
Amazon.com Sleep, Creep, Leap
Bejamin Vogt's Blog - The Deep Middle
P.S. I struggled for days to work out why it's called Sleep, Creep, Leap! I think it's because he didn't know how gardening would grip his life before he started. He began with a little garden, then leapt in with a big one and massive (almost obsessive?) enthusiasm. Perhaps you should ask him?