- Day follows night, temperatures fall lower, each morning the world wakes once more in miraculous beauty. Such was true even as plutocratic aristocrats ripped apart the Roman Republic, or black plague swept over Europe, or heads rolled in La Place Du Concorde, or thousands perished under fall of bombs, or millions died of starvation. Grim global news seems to indicate the Earth is heading for the third and final collapse of civilization and the ultimate war which will wipe everything except single-celled organisms from this planet. There will still be beauty, but none to notice.
- What can I or anyone do? Hope and pray and enjoy the hours that remain? I foster no illusions that I can make a difference among the mob or the fanatics. Being an early martyr is hardly more useful to the cosmos than being a later victim. And so I crouch here, in my lovely local oasis. I cultivate my garden, cherish each moment, speak out once in a while, and fatalistically accept that the universe is a strange and wonderful place, but not benign, and not guaranteed to continue to allow any more oases such as mine.
On far seas huge waves rush and crush
Ocean tides flood top and drop
Hear breakers roar against the shore
Watch sparkling ripples land on sand
I can’t affect them, nor they me
Vast spaces off, suns burn and churn
Noon beams reflect from hands and lands
Colors glow while shadows grow
My soul basks under warm and charm
But just accepts what’s known must be.
Invisible, life hides and glides
Too small, too crowded, gels and cells,
Full universe alone, unknown
From conceit, I that more ignore
Involved in what I now can see.
Somewhere in branes of strings and things
Quantum singsong pops and stops
Empty magic, weird and feared
I wish to not know much of such
Too tenuous reality
My little spider spins and grins
What’s true must be met in my net
Beyond that nothing real to feel
Patiently I wait on fate
Sometimes happy, always free.
- All life responds to its environment, many animals are capable of learning, some even show signs of self-recognition and awareness. But despite the claims of pet owners, animal consciousness is strongly limited to their immediate time and surroundings. Dogs do not wonder what lies over the next hill or why stars glow, nor do they worry what will happen when they die. Humans, on the other hand, have an unfortunate habit of overlooking the immediately obvious while dreaming of some distant possibility.
- Of course, we do strongly inhabit the here and now, sometimes more actively than we wish to. Our wild imagination tempts us to become depressed over the possible fates of our planet one hundred years from now, or to care about the suffering of people thousands of miles away. We worry about hopes and fears, sometimes to the point where it interferes with how we actually exist. I am not yet immune enough to the worldwide web of desperate information about which I can reasonably do little or nothing. I must take a deep breath, smile into the breeze and refocus on a beautiful white mushroom in the middle of my slightly overgrown lawn.
Our discussion group at the library is in full furor over the television debates of the two presidential candidates. I sit quietly, because there is really nothing new to say. Only a few rehashed viewpoints.
Jane is proclaiming her standard argument. “All politicians are liars and crooks. It doesn’t matter who gets elected and it doesn’t matter at all what they say before they get elected because they won’t do what they say anyway.” As in the Bri
tish House of Commons, there arises a chorus of low croaking assent.
tish House of Commons, there arises a chorus of low croaking assent.
Marilyn, an activist, chirps, “But this is our chance to make a difference. No matter what, we should be involved, demonstrating, contributing to the candidate we like.” We are all a tad too cynical for that so silence rules.
One of the few supporters of one party grumbles, “I agree with Jane, but at least my crook will shake things up and maybe the pieces will fall back into a better arrangement.” Cynicism greets that statement as well.
Jeremy, spokesman for the majority, begins a long rant, “Our candidate is clearly better than that other jerk. I don’t see how any reasonable person …” Being reasonable persons, we are willing to hear him out, but no minds are being changed.
The sad fact is that like all cracker-barrel philosophers, we spend our few hours chewing the cud in front of the Franklin stove at the village store, getting as heated with what is being said as we are by the fire inside. Then we’ll head back to our rustic homesteads and fix the windows or pull the weeds and do what we can to make our small slice of the universe a better place to be.
- Frightening statistics being thrown about how this area is 10 inches below normal rainfall. Sometimes the effects show, but there have been enough showers and mild downpours to keep the surface green, even if the subsoil is arid. Anyway, this is unlikely a climate change issue, just the luck of the weather which for months has somehow split all storms as they reached New York City into two paths: up the Hudson and out to sea, leaving the Island parched in the middle. None of that means we have totally avoided cloudy days. Probably the pattern will change just in time to concentrate blizzards over the winter ….
- It is always chancy to predict the future from what has happened, or to generalize about the whole world based on what you have experienced. Just because I’m living comfortably does not mean everyone else _ or anyone else for that matter _ is doing so. Just because I have not even noticed the drought around me does not make it nonexistent. For that reason I am hesitant about making broad statements most of the time _ although I can spin whoppers with the best of them if I’m in the mood. And yet, I remain certain that my limited local understanding of our world should count for something.
- Huge spruce tree, ragweed poking through asphalt along the harbor, starfish living and dead washed on shore, are all playing their parts in whatever universal grand scheme may exist. Their nearly unnoticed contributions are vital to continuing the spectacle. What is one more tree, ragweed, starfish? God may watch the fall of sparrows, but we find it difficult to pay much attention until they go on the endangered species list, when it is often too late.
- Ancient religions correctly placed us between heaven and earth _ more than plants or animals, less than omniscient spirits. Today we still find ourselves at war with ourselves. We know we should make the world better _ or at least stable _ but that is hard to accept if it means we must shiver through the winter, or eat food we do not like. Nothing in science has helped us cope with our dual and multiple natures.
- How can we judge a life? How do we evaluate that ragweed, that starfish upside down on sand? How do we mark our own purpose, if any? Unanswerable questions except in so far as the questions may be meaningless. Perhaps such questions are incapable of being framed correctly.
- Life is complex and contradictory. People can and do sacrifice their own happiness and families to save or ameliorate the lives of many others. Does some invisible Karma make it all finally equal out?
- And, of course, another equally challenging thought is should we always be the same? Can we help people at one point in our lives, and help ourselves at another, and be relatively good for doing so? Or does the universe, like our corporations, only care about what we have done for it lately?
- Once in a while I spend too much time contemplating such thoughts. Even then, I often wonder if such thinking is noble or useless. And inevitably I return to my comfortable chair, my delicious snacks, and my comfortable existence.
- Ancient 12thcentury Chinese ink scrolls have immortalized concepts of the contemplative scholar, bureaucratic chores completed, wandering through a tamed wilderness, sitting in a quiet pavilion staring at the moon, drinking a cup of plum wine as he traces each line of a delicate peach blossom. Perhaps he also composes a poem, or himself produces a finely toned brush masterwork. He is refined, and content, and obviously not impoverished, but neither is he burdened with trinkets nor concerned at the moment with the daily frenzy of the imperial court which it is assumed he must by necessity daily inhabit to continue his existence. A certain type of idyllic mental oasis.
- I have always revered this vision, or at any rate my interpretation of it. I too seek to wander tamed paths finding such nature as I will, to occasionally stare at the moon and listen to crickets in the darkness, and to watch birds through my picture window as I sip a cup of coffee. I prefer to believe my oasis differs only in particulars from the message of the ink scroll. There is a degree of charm in remaining unconnected to the electronic web, to bustling consumer acquisitiveness, to concern for striving for more and better. Seeking to find perfection in this exact moment is sometimes the most profound accomplishment I can achieve.