I don’t know about you, but I’m glad it’s finally November, a time for cooking up a big pot of soup, building a fire in the fireplace and reflecting on the many blessings for which we are thankful. Oh, and also for cleaning.
It seems to me that if there is an autumn equivalent to spring cleaning, it happens in the early part of November. Before the cold really sets in and the rush of holiday hosting and merry-making kicks off, it feels like the right time to de-clutter and scrub and organize, a time to chase away the Halloween gloom and the millions of stupid little plastic spider rings your kids brought home from classroom parties, trunk-or-treats, and fall festivals.
And I’m talking about A LOT of stupid little plastic spider rings here. I don’t know precisely how many came crawling into my house during the last days of October this year, but I have to assume it was a fair few (thousand) because every time I’ve been cleaning up a storm and I think I about have it done, I find more.
They ambush me from the dark recesses of my kitchen cabinets, scuttle into the corners of rooms I could swear I’ve already mopped, and creep out of the couch cushions when I finally sit down to relax.
To be clear, I don’t have a particular phobia of spiders. I am not the kind of woman who runs screaming from a room at the sight of one, begging the nearest man to kill it for me. In fact, as long as they aren’t too big (because let’s face it, eight legged critters are not aesthetically pleasing—I’m looking at you, Mr. Giant Squid!), I’m usually content to leave them well-enough alone, knowing that they are anxious to eat other little critters I’d rather not live with.
It turns out spiders may be good for more than just mosquito-eating, too, because in 1306 (or 1313 according to some versions) Robert the Bruce, the king who famously led the Scots in their first war for independence from England, found himself in a pretty miserable place.
His campaign for independence wasn’t going well. He’d been defeated in battle five times in a row and was hiding in a cave considering whether it was all worth it. That’s when he spied a small spider working to spin a web across a wide gap. Robert watched the critter fail to jump the gap five times, but on the sixth time she (because heroic spiders are named Charlotte), successfully made the jump.
Motivated by the spider’s determination and eventual success, Robert the Bruce dusted himself off and tried again, leading a far outnumbered Scottish force to victory against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, and eventually to the recognition of Scottish independence.
A version of the story first turns up in the 1643 History of the House of Douglas, in which the entire experience of the spider is assigned to Sir James Douglas, an ally and close friend to Robert (like the kind of close friend that carries your embalmed heart into battle after you die, but that’s another story). Robert was apparently inserted into the tale in 1827 by Sir Walter Scott.
But the story is well-known by English and Scottish school children, in the same way that American children know of young George Washington’s refusal to lie about chopping down a fictional cherry tree. And whether it’s true or not, the tale teaches the valuable lesson that success often requires perseverance.
At least that’s what I’m going to choose to take from it. Because no matter how many stupid plastic spider rings I have to dig out of my couch cushions and surreptitiously throw away while my children aren’t looking, I will get my house cleaned up in time for the holidays. Maybe not on the first attempt, or on the second, third, fourth, or fifth, but I’m sure my perseverance will pay off in the end.