Closer Inspections


  • Among other waning-season signs are the profuse blooms of rose of Sharon, now showing off in yards everywhere.  But even were those absent,  crowns of trees have taken on distinct reddish or yellowish tinges, and close inspection of the leaves finds bits of rust, areas of brown, gangrenous insect-caused holes.  This is all caused not simply by heat and drought, but also by the ever-lowering angle of the sun and shortening evenings.  Schools of snappers now agitate the water as they seek to escape larger predators.  Even the mix of outside birds has begun to include early migrants.
  • So I vow to look a little more closely at the small picture.  Not the microscopic, which is fascinating in its own right, but the visible bits of which reality is composed.  A single branch or leaf, one bloom, a stalk of grass.  In the loveliness of summer I have sometimes become too enamored of wide distant scenes, waves and shores, clouds over hills.  Time to return to the scale of reality at which I actually exist.


Seeing worlds in a grain of sand
Perhaps a little too abstract
Too hard to focus with these eyes
I need some slightly larger facts
“If there were world enough and time …”
Torn wisdom fragments from my youth
I question from my greater age
What such young poets knew of truth
And yet I know I once knew more
Of sandgrains, stars, and even time
Now just today is what I crave

To stare at any leaf I find.


  • This thistle has terminated its destiny of sprouting, growing, flowering, seeding, and sending forth the next generation.  Most of its offspring are doomed, a few will thrive next year.  Even those that fail will enrich the planet with oxygen and food.  Such cycles of all plants and animals create Earth’s incredible biosphere.
  • People always accepted that we were related to animals.   Darwin’s great sin was to show we are just like them.   Beauty, meaning, purpose are in that sense unnecessary.  Humankind has now spent over a hundred years trying to replace the certainty that there was “more to it” with other systems: religion, political movements, social crusades, science, technology, art, individual lifestyle.  Nothing has healed the damage.


Enjoying the feel of a dusty road at Caumsett, I ran into Stan and Myra coming up the hill the other way.  We were all soaked in sweat, so the natural greeting was “Hot enough?”
“Sure is,” panted Myra, seizing on the chance for a hiking break.  “Summer won’t give up this year.”
“But we were noticing,” added Stan, “that there are lots of signs of it reaching an end _ look at those brown fields…”
“Well,” I exclaimed cheerfully, “After all, tempus fugit.”
“Wayne!” scolded Myra, “watch your language!”
“I think he means tem-pus foo-jit,” Stan said.  “Time flies.”
“Everything in nature except people seems to be getting that message,” I ignored the correction.
“Everything in nature has to endure this heat, drought, freezing cold, snow, and predators all the time,” pointed out Myra.
“Yeah,” Stan remarked, “but the only cycles we really notice are those of work and politics.”
“I can only agree,” I sighed.
“And aging,” chimed in Myra.
“Depressing thought.”  I waved around.  “Contemplating nature is supposed to be uplifting.”
“But, even so,” she continued stubbornly, “we are, in the end, as impermanent as everything around us here.”
“Take her away!” I laughed.  “I still have a ways to go here.  See you around …”

We parted happily, our thoughts perhaps a little more profound, as hawks circled overhead.


  • Hooray!  Something does eat this plant!  At this time of year, bindweed is the scourge of any gardener, who discovers that overnight beautiful beds of phlox and roses have been strangled in a thick mat of nearly impenetrable vines and leaves.  And if not cleared immediately, it goes to flower and seed.  Then that space may be nearly unusable for a few years, even with diligent care.
  • Our world hurtles on.  Pessimists wail it is hell-bent for destruction.  Optimists dream it is rocketing towards paradise.  Most likely, as always, contradictory bits of heaven and hell will intertwine.  But no matter what, like weeds and the world itself, we all hurtle on.


  • There’s great satisfaction in discovering signs and assigning patterns.  I watch a changing leaf here and a browning seedpod there and suddenly the world of autumn unfolds before me.  I immediately imagine what will come, and seek confirmation of expectations.  That is essential human (and animal) mental behavior.  It is, after all, the basis of training anything.
  • Such information is useful.  Properly leveraged, it can make some people rich.  More importantly, having the foresight of possible and probable future problems is one basis of civilization.  Knowing there will be a winter is why we sow and grow and harvest crops.  Knowing there would be a dangerous night with predators active is why our ancestors built camps and utilized fire.  Knowing the Nile will flood … well of course the list is endless and ongoing.
  • One problem I have already discussed.  In concentrating on signals about what may come, I may forget the thing in itself.  It is well to guess what the future may hold, but the present is already full and I should try to take advantage of it.  Besides that, I can easily lose myself in the game itself, rather than the actual reality that game is trying to reference.
  • The other problem is that my connections may be wrong.  Since I, like any other human, am the center of my universe, I assume unconsciously that the universe is all about me.  I become certain that if I wear a lucky sock my team will win, if I pray to the right gods it will rain.  Most of those me-centered predictions tend to be incorrect.  That doesn’t stop my brain from happily constructing them from gossamer patterns of invisible connectivity. 
  • Summer is ending.  Fall arrives soon.  The signs are all about me.  So what?  I need to take out the fiddle and play up a storm, for until summer does end, it still remains.


  • Until a few hundred years ago, things seemed remarkably simple.  Not systems, of course, nor life itself; but those objects which constituted reality.  A bird was a bird, a tree a tree.  Thunder was mysterious, but nevertheless a certain event.  There might or might not be gods.  A solid framework was resolutely present.   Since then, of course, everything has been revealed as infinitely complicated, no matter how closely examined.  A bird, its components, its atoms, those atoms, their subatomic structure _ nothing ever really clarifies except at its proper level.  There is always more to it.
  • The wonder is that there is no end of wonder.  No matter how deeply we peer, how closely we examine, how devotedly we concentrate, there is even more to amaze.  And yet, as we move up to broader view, outward, there remains enchantment.  A night horizon with moon, sky and stars is as amazing as any set of chemical bonds.  Beyond and out into the vast universe, continually astonishing.  And yet _ being human _ I can sometimes become blasé and bored with it all anyway.  That in itself is worthy of wonder.

One thought on “Closer Inspections

  1. This is a nice ending to your “closer inspections” series. It sorta' reverses the lens back to the zoom out mode and the Big Picture, or what we can see of it anyway. And, yes, wondering is perhaps one of the most amazing gifts we have as humans. I think it's inherent safety valve for being human. When we lose interest or lose focus on what is right before us, we can always wonder if….


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