Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

“Mom, sing the song about the spider.” Will is investigating a web spun between branches. A single ray of morning sunlight has pierced the canopy of leaves, illuminating the fragile structure.

I am out of breath from climbing the steep hill on which we live. Still, I sing:

The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout...

We seldom walk this hill. We’re far enough from town that walking it only renders us slightly less far from town. And, though a pretty walk, there is only one destination along it: the swimming hole. We never walk there, either. Any day hot enough to make wading in the chill water pleasant is too hot to make the return climb attractive.

We drove the hill quite a bit, though. Back and forth, everyday. Often several times. It was the fastest way to town.

The laws of nature being what they are, it was also the fastest course downhill for Irene’s great deluge. Now our steep road is just one of the hundreds of destroyed roads that crisscross Vermont.

So, today I walked the hill with my son.

In summer, the swimming hole is a shady spot with lots of large, flat rocks above a slight plunge pool. It is deep enough for the kids to submerge, but not so deep or swift that we have to worry about them; they are within arm’s reach as we sit on the rocks and let the water sluice around us. After cooling off, the kids wade upstream and peer under the old stone bridge. It has been reconstructed over the years -- reinforced with concrete on the uphill side -- but the original rock structure is still exposed on the downstream edge. The kids like to peer into it, daring each other to venture inside. The dripping masonry walls are slick with moss and suggest something ancient and dangerous: a troll that will exact a payment more precious than blood or a toe-eating monster lurking in the depths.

Now, a great crevasse runs just above the swimming hole and below the bridge that was not enough to contain the vast volume of the flood. Though the waters have subsided and the brook is back to its usual path under the old stone structure, it is still far to swift for me to feel comfortable letting go of Will’s small hand. We scramble up and over the cut, examining the exposed rocks. Quartzite and schist: much of it quite beautiful. My son throws pebbles into the torrent, then finds a smooth, purple rock to put in his pocket. We turn and start the steep walk home.

Will talks as we climb, but I am silent, wondering how long it will take to fix the damaged roads, to reconstruct buildings that were the product of decades of labor. Things that -- like the old stone bridge my children dare each other to explore -- stood for centuries before Irene.

Weeks? Months? I don’t know. Maybe it will be patched up by then. But there is so much to repair across my town and my state that it will be years before it is all put to rights.

Half-way up, Will spies the brilliant web and asks me to sing. How many times have I sung this song? Today, in this old bit of doggerel, I heard something new. Something about renewal.

...Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.

And the itsy-bitsy spider walked up the spout again.

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