Only now, in the middle of a lifetime, have I reconciled myself to spiders. So it was with ambivalent fascination that I discovered a nest of perhaps a hundred tiny orphaned babies in the garden, appearing as a comet of gold in a magically woven universe taut along the French lilac. Having joggled the slender branches bracing the web looking for wasted flower bracts to prune, I watched, rapt, as a jumble of dozens of pinhead-sized spiders dropped, fanning out and down like climbers rappelling out over a mountainside. As quickly as they were shaken free, the tiny infantry dragged itself up on invisible scaffolding to quietly reclaim some vestige of its old formation.
In much the same way, I look back in awe at the weaving and unravelling and weaving again of what we know to be the seventies. Was there anything that hadn't been knocked loose, pried apart or turned inside out by then?
Military triumphalism went out with a whimper as the United States limped away from Vietnam. But tempered by the sixties, we looked with skeptical eyes as the U.S. rebuilt its web within Latin America and propped up ruthless dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador and Guatemala. In the midst of the slaughter, tiny Nicaragua emerged in momentary defiance of U.S. self-interest.
A little-understood conflict in the Middle East took turns that sent ripples through the oft-oblivious West. Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin hashed out the first steps of a peace settlement at Camp David. Meanwhile, Arab oil producers pushed us to a sharper understanding of the Middle East conflict with an embargo that sent a shiver through the West, forcing the price of oil to five times its early-seventies value.
As Mel Watkins explains, this "oil shock," combined with Richard Nixon's decision to cut the U.S. dollar loose from its fixed price in relation to gold, set the world economy into the spin of recession. At the end of the day, however, a new consciousness of environmental preservation had settled into countries where consumerism had seemed a divine right. In Canada, this consciousness expressed itself in the unexpected response to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, described here by Louisa Blair.
The wondrous jostling of the Roman Catholic Church in the Second Vatican Council had finally sifted down to tiny parishes everywhere. Music was transformed by the St. Louis Jesuits; youth groups, Marriage Encounter and the charismatic movement gave a home to Catholics yearning for a spiritual life, but with their feet planted in the world. Gloriously spirited movements like L'Arche and Taizé captured the imagination of people who yearned to weave together their hearts, spirit and work.
In the seventies we picked up after the considerable bash of the decade gone by. But for many, the unambiguous structures of an earlier time--military, state and church--would never be given the same authority. We had matured, left the warm web-nest and turned into something akin to the fiercely vigilant humpbacked loners, fly-fattened and sitting in wait in the junipers along the front of the house or strung along the ends of the clothesline.
Two decades later, as I cringe to hear the local folk group hiccup through "Be Not Afraid," or see what has become of the dream that was Nicaragua, or shudder for a fragile peace in the Middle East, I do not despair. Dreams will come and go. Where we have been and will be are perhaps less important than that we are, and will continue to be, alert to new springtimes in unanticipated places.