Wonder & Worry


  • Looking out the window, walking through a meadow, watching a brilliant sunset,  catching flashes of lightning bugs at night, and hearing the shrieks and melodies of birds all day long, this seems the most perfect of places in the most perfect of times.  Flowers bloom everywhere in this benign climate, entertaining storms pass quickly by, squirrels play.  Inside, the larder is always full, there are infinite wise books to be read, marvelous distractions available on media all the livelong day.  Yet we are warned not to be fooled, for all is falling apart.
  • A favorite phrase of essayists these days is “the best of times, the worst of times.”  Global warming, falling test scores, increasing racial tension, defunct political consensus,  neonicotinoids,  GMO’s, the list is endless and increasing with each ever-more hysterical dawn.  I’m getting older and _ in the words of the old Kingston Trio “Merry Minuet” _ I don’t like anybody very much.  But I have come to accept that “best” in the present is worth a bunch of “worst” in the future.  An intellectual hedonism.  Perhaps I am condemned by such an attitude _ but perhaps pure appreciation also counts for something.


I wonder at this grand fine day
I worry of tomorrow
Wonder as we dance and play
Worry at our sorrow
Our universe is grand and free
Until it kicks our teeth
We carpe diem just to be
But may find no relief
I wonder who I am and why
I worry what to do
Wonder at the earth and sky

Worry if it’s through.


  • Amazingly, in one of the most populated areas on Earth, it is possible to slip away to a few places where there are few signs of people.  Astoundingly, in spite of centuries of industrialization and pollution, the air still seems clearly scented with flowers, the water tangy with salt and little else.  Birds fly endless rounds, insects flit about the marsh, flowers bloom on the sand.  And most surprising of all, parts of this scene are wilder than they were a century or two ago.
  • We have become increasingly urban.  Our own experiences are often of home after home, building after building, traffic on streets with no scrap of land visible.  Our essayists flit from megapolis to megapolis, in sealed aircraft, not noticing the “flyover” barrens below them.  Yet most of the world remains open land.  A few hours away even from here are vast tracts that _ if not untouched wilderness _ are nonetheless unused wildness, filled with decaying buildings and the rusting scraps of an older era.  Rural residences, farms, small towns are depopulating almost everywhere.  Perhaps, walking in empty fields and wetlands, I can yet preserve hope for the future while contemplating that fact.


Jim and I exchanging banter during some demonstration or other at Hecksher Park.  The banner says something like “Save your shoes, save the Earth,” sponsored by Nike.  Almost a hundred folks of all ages are grimly striding around the lake, happily engaged in this godly duty of environmental repair through consumerism.
“More dystopian thoughts,” I venture.
“Oh, haven’t we had them during our lifetime?” muses Jim.  “Gee, I lived through the communist red menace, certain nuclear war …”
I add “irrecoverable river and air pollution, no birds or wildlife because of DDT, cities going up in flames, race riots, cultural disintegration from the sexual revolution.”
“Yeah,” smiles Jim, taking up the theme, “the end of oil, population explosion like locusts, nuclear meltdown,  Japan buying the world.”
“Starvation from a new ice age …”
“What?” he exclaims.
“I was reading an old book.  That was a common theme of the seventies _ we were about to move out of an interglacial warm spell and into cold desertification of our grain belts.”
“Oh, right, I forgot.  And then …”
“Don’t forget we were all going to die of AIDs, China buying everything, computers running amok,”
“Y2K!” we both laugh.
“The end of metals and all other commodities, autism plagues, social revolution redux, united Islam conquering a fractured West.”
“And here we are,” Jim waves at the crowd.  “Still worried, still hysterical, still inventing problems.”
“And solving them,” I interject.
“Well, or letting them solve themselves,” he notes.
“Here we are,” I say slowly, “Practically in utopia, and still inventing insoluble problems and certain death.”
“Well, it keeps life interesting.”

More people stream by, the sun shines, and swans glide majestically across the calm waters.


  • Bindweed and morning glories now blooming _ surprise _ every morning, along with the chicory. Other summer flowers are following their genetic pattern.  Meadows are filled with daisies, butter-and-eggs line the roadways, hawkweed offers bright yellow spots and thistle and vetch provide patches of purple.  It is as if views have been orchestrated for pleasure.  Terns and swallows swoop, hawks and ospreys float in circles, sparrows and finches dash from bush to bush.  Ah, another fine mid-summer.
  • People don’t conform to predetermined patterns, not even those of their parents.  Older folks know the younger generation is failing to measure up to their own lofty achievements.  For example, nobody under fifty can read maps and is hopelessly lost without a GPS nearby.  Such complaints, often humorous but with sarcastic bite, fill media.  The young, like the meadow flowers and larks, laugh it off, knowing that the world is theirs and will remain so until the next even more awful generation happens along.


  • The fascinating dichotomy of the times _ this so much better, that so much worse _ extends through science and technology into nature and human existence.  At no other period have we been so aware of the entire world, so deeply understanding of its underlying complexity.  Yet with that awareness and understanding has come the horrible realization of how rapidly much is vanishing and destroyed forever, and how fragile the rest remains.
  • For those willing to make an effort, the complex intertwining of physics and life reverberates in a grand symphony back to the big bang itself.  For those open to marvels of our mind, the mysterious rapid evolution of the human species and its implications is an infinitely engrossing study.  We are on the verge of a true useful philosophy of being, even though it remains sadly out of reach at this moment.
  • Technology, meanwhile, hands its marvels and curses as always.  For every wonderful advance _ miracles as trivial as being able to eat strawberries all year round or major triumphs over diseases like heart disease and cancer _ there seems to be some counterbalancing evil.  And yet, on the whole, which of us would willingly roll back the clock even a hundred or two hundred years, in terms of knowledge, technology, society, or any other part of our mostly happy and comfortable existence?
  • I could make predictions, but like all predictions, they would be wrong.  I could wish for things, but since my time remaining is brief, my wishes tend to have a limit of decades rather than centuries.  I could fear much, but fearing that which one cannot control or affect leads only to madness. 
  • So another day dawns.  I revel in new discoveries from my immediate environment, from my extended media, from my inner thoughts.  It appears I have another day of wonders before me, and that Is more than satisfying at this stage of my life.  Tomorrow, as always, will have to take care of itself. 


  • Above ground, this is a festival of peace and plenty.  Nothing is grabbing ground furiously, the only real struggle is finding enough water, but plants have evolved to handle that.  Everything has its place and is either preparing the next generation or storing resilience for the coming winter.  Inexorably, the sun provides less and less power for doing so each day.  Goslings and cygnets and all other cutely named baby birds are nearly full-grown, feasting on unlimited abundance.  Under the barely rippled surface of the water, however, a frightening Darwinian massacre continues as fish eat fish eat fish. 
  • So it may look like peace and plenty, calm and stability, but struggle continues, and if species could worry they no doubt would do so.  We are blessed with imagination, so a lack of water signifies more than itself, high heat may mean global disaster, bright sun may even now be starting a later skin cancer.  And even if all is well nearby, the distant world certainly has problems.  I think such perspective is a trap.  Life is a gift _ it is always unstable, what matters most to you and me is what is local to you and me.  

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