- This weekend is North America’s signal for “back to.” Back to class, back to school, back to work, back to getting ready for winter, back to thinking about end of year holidays. Back to pulling boats out of the water for storage. “Back to” always has a tinge of resentment _ nobody on Memorial Day in the spring sighs deeply and mutters “Oh, it’s back to summer vacations.”
- We have conquered the worst impacts of the cycle of seasons. But perhaps humans enjoy cycles, and if they are not provided by nature we can invent our own. Industry and advertising, of course, are all for it. Ironically, “Labor Day” is supposed to be a celebration of the liberation of workers, when it has really come to mostly signal a return to our socially regimented shackles.
Dark matter, dark energy, dark time
Meet my moments
- Cruise control. Leaves keep pumping out oxygen, birds constantly flock for food, flowers bloom, squirrels rush about. Too early for the most dramatic changes in behavior or appearance, but beyond the frantic struggle to get ahead. As things wind down, so will everything else. Drought now will defoliate branches without green replacement, inevitable colder evenings will tinge meadows with yellow and red. In a month or so gardens will be just a memory.
- Nice metaphor for retirement. Cruise control as we finally get a chance to do all day whatever we always wanted to. But not pushing too hard, not really frantic, just mellowing along. Anyway, for the lucky ones. I know some folks regardless of age remain hassled and fritzy. Being fortunate, I just sit back and enjoy the free entertainment.
Jean, Joan, and I are down on the dock, watching seagulls swoop in the steady breeze. A loud backfire startles us into glancing at the road, where a yellow school bus is just lurching off, having discharged a few youngsters at the bottom of the hill.
“Ah, that brings back memories,” I say. All those days up and down my hill at home, all kinds of weather, books and lunchbox. Boy, did I hate September.”
“What?” asks Joan. “I thought you were good at school.”
“Yeah, but just like now I’d rather be outside.”
“I was glad to get back with more friends,” remarks Jean. “Summer got a little boring at the end.”
We all stare into the distance for a while, remembering.
“Well, then of course I worked as a teacher for a while. I kinda dreaded going back too,” Joan finally says.
“Oh, you loved that. You were ready with lesson plans and all. I was the one that hated when work geared up again every year.”
“Me too,” says Jean. “Right up until the end a few years ago. September was never any fun, in any way.”
“Now, of course, it’s different,” I remark. “We’re lucky enough to keep doing what we want without alarm clocks and schedules and demands.”
“Just like the seagulls,” puts in Jean poetically.
“Well, I have things to do!”
“Sure, Joan, but the difference is now you can do them when you want to, not when you are told.”
The wind keeps blowing and the gulls continue their acrobatics as life goes on from all perspectives at once.
- After days of cool clouds and brief sprinkles, heat and sun have returned. Summer flowers are actively blooming, boatyards are still empty, weeds choke every available space with greenery. Summer continues its merry way. Only the lack of people outside on this fine weekday betrays the idea that the social world continues as it was, say, two weeks ago.
- I admit that my problem is that I actively notice changes, rather than continuity. I see the browning leaves. I observe that swimming floats have been taken in, that lifeguard stands are put away. A boat used to remove moorings is now cruising the harbor. I force myself to rejoice at the wonderful weather, but the crucial and sad fact is that I must force myself to do so.
- For over a week, a hurricane recently meandered around. In spite of supercomputers and massive reams of data, nobody could predict where it would go when, nor what it would do. Weather is a chaotic system, which means that even if you know everything, you cannot tell exactly what might happen. The illustration often used is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China may affect a hurricane in the Atlantic. But chaos theory really states that it may not. Like quantum jumps, you just can’t predict.
- Weather is simple compared to society. Butterflies may flap wings, but each person is a complete chaotic system unto themselves, and each individual’s acts (or lack of acts) may affect a society profoundly or not at all or in some obscure unexpected way. The sooner we accept that social studies are not sciences _ except in vaguely and often useless statistical trends _ the better.
- Most thinking people _ I try to be one _ realize, for example, that grouping and generalization of people is generally futile. To say most folks are “back to” something ignores the fact that a technological culture grinds on relentlessly without cessation. Electricity is being generated, goods are being delivered, sales are being made. Nothing stops. There is nothing to go back to, because nobody ever left. Oh, statistics will try to prove that indeed students are back in class, indeed most vacations are over. But none of that really counts for much.
- That’s part of why politics is so maddening. Everyone involved is frantically trying to split the world into groups and factions, and then generalize about what each group and faction is doing or desires. And, for any given moment, a crowd may agree. But the minute individuals leave such a crowd, they go their own unpredictable and unique ways, and all bets are off.
- Sometimes I prefer the hurricane.
- Nature is also briefly back to summer with a near heat wave of high temperature and humidity. Only quickly descending earlier darkness provides awareness of the march of the season. Seeds are ripening quickly now, nuts on the trees swelling to their final dimensions, birds beginning to pass through on migration. Fish in the harbor endure the final stages of feeding frenzy _ there are frequent disturbed jumps and flashes in the water as rapidly growing bluefish snappers devour smaller ones. Sunsets turn spectacular.
- I try to get back to my normal cheerful optimism, but for some reason I am stuck in the melancholy contemplation of what is to come, rather than what is here. The heat feels too hot, life seems to drag. My inner soul sometimes fails to heed my reason. That is a great fault, but I also realize it is part of my humanity. There are, after all, things wrong with our world, as well as miracles everywhere. But real life always beckons, and I remain sure that a nice long walk, a quiet natural meditation, will put me back to the normally cheerful spot I desperately try to retain.