Thinking of the
Great Cosmic Game Clock.
Thinking of the
Great Cosmic Game Clock.
Crocuses are blooming now, and Canada geese migrate northward. The air each day hints more of spring. The song of the red-winged blackbird fills the yard. Sunsets are lavender then orange. Mornings sport foggy patches, and the deer have come down out of their winter yards.
The beautiful world has been busy being beautiful for a long, long time. Make that a very, very, very long time. Nothing to date has affected her all that much. The sky is still aquamarine blue, and clouds in the sun will reveal rainbow colors if you look closely.
The grass is greening as green as any year, and dandelions have wasted no time getting started. The trail greets Sassy and me with the same joyous embrace we have come to know, and the air smells as sweet as any spring I can remember.
Mankind has always sought out and marveled at beauty. Nature and the arts. Throughout recorded history we have breathlessly described new frontiers. We have written ballets devoted to the seasons, composed and choreographed the essences of life’s beauty to be displayed upon the stage. We have written books of adventure, love, poetry. Songs that embrace light and love, devotion and bravery. We have painted and drawn and sculpted masterpieces attempting to convey our overwhelming joy to be witnesses to this marvelous world.
These things have never tired, never faded: the world’s beauty and humankind’s appreciation of it.
Humans have observed and recorded beauty at all times. All times throughout history.
During bountiful years and seasons of drought.
During times of enlightenment and growth as well as times of darkness and evil.
During plentiful times, and times of starvation and death.
We can hope and dream with all our might, yet we must bow to the unwavering truth that there will be some dark days for most of us during the courses of our lifetimes. That there will be dark times for our world.
Humankind has harnessed the power of light. It began long ago with a fire in a cave. It continued as gaslights recorded in the stories of O. Henry and Charles Dickens. It entered modern times with Mr. Edison’s curious invention. It has followed us into the future with lasers carrying our telecommunications, and solar farms gathering the power of the sun for our use.
And so it is the power of beauty and light that I will embrace now.
There will be lilacs in May.
There will be peonies in June.
There will be raspberries in July.
There will be morning glories in August.
You have plenty of places elsewhere to read about the darkness.
Let’s keep our eye on the lighthouse, and keep the lamp lit.
Let’s marvel at the sweep of the beacon through the fog.
Until the storm has passed.
I beg your pardon, and I mean just that.
I’m sorry we won’t have time to chat.
I haven’t a moment to spare, you see,
Just now Mother is calling me.
It’s not entirely my fault,
This unavoidable delay.
But you know the world is bigger than me
And overwhelms my day.
It’s not only me, it’s also the birds
‘Cause they’re Tweeting me with their tweeting bird words.
And the trees are waving to catch my eye,
Passing clouds call out “Hello and goodbye.”
Am I to blame for marveling
At this air that smells of snow?
It surrounds me and embraces me,
And follows everywhere I go.
You wouldn’t hold it against a guy
Whose eyes automatically rise to the sky,
For breathing deep and lingering long,
To sing along with Nature’s song.
So hasten, must I,
To truncate this rhyme.
You and I can visit
Some other time.
When I was a young fool and thought I knew everything,
I had something to say to everyone,
and an opinion, a position, on everything.
Now that I am an old fool I realize how little I know.
And I am reticent.
Why waste my breath on incessantly babbling young fools?
Who’s to say denial and delusion are anything but good for you?
Dreams, fantasy, fiction, acting, pretend, hope, “all the world but a stage”.
Consider the alternatives.
Of which course to follow,
Really, who is the fool?
By some, the event may have been called
And love spilled out.
It flows as it never has.
“Getting back to the roots” of Armchair Zen, so to speak. This post was originally published in May, 2011.The mighty oak from the tiny acorn grows.
This old adage seems to reflect a wonder and reverence for this amazing feat.
I love trees, I really do. I could easily personify them, impune them with human attributes, worship them as spirits. Something about a tree, standing firm and tall in the same place, day in, day out, year ’round…it brings a sense of stability, longevity, solidity, groundedness.
I like to subscribe to what I call Tree Philosophy, or Tree Attitude. So many things in our lives appear to be a conspiracy of circumstances, the times we live in, where we live, the way we live, with whom we live. Choices we made back in…when? Things we shoulda woulda or coulda done.
My grandfather always told me “Take shoulda, woulda and coulda in one hand, and a nickel in the other, and see which one will buy you a donut.”
Trees waste no time on such worries. A little tree seed plants its first tendrils into the soil—and is committed! From day one, that tree is going to live or die, stand or fall, right on that very same spot.
I like to imagine trees thinking about that. “I’m going to be the best tree I can right here, where I am, working with what I have.”
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That is, after all, a description of our entire lives, really, isn’t it? We are where we are, there’s no denying that. We must work with what we have, be it employment, a dwelling, our people, money, transportation, brain power, energy or spirit. And doing the best we can within these parameters is all we can do.
For philosophers such as President Roosevelt and myself, this means we don’t throw in the towel just because the odds are stacked against us, the task is overwhelming, or we’re short on assets, even if tasked with great challenges or the seemingly impossible. It also means recognizing that there are limits to what we can do, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for being unable to do more.
I imagine a tree’s life is similar, but to the greatest extent. Tree doesn’t agonize over location. Perhaps prospects for success might be better elsewhere. Perhaps the climate is something humans would want to escape. Perhaps the very home of Tree is in a precarious place, on the side of a cliff, at the edge of an eroding riverbank, or at the last edge of the tree line, far up a tall mountain. Tree can’t move, but can only hang on and throw all of its efforts into the present.
Neither can Tree do anything about the changes in its life. Perhaps it’s struck by lightning, maybe loses a limb or suffers damage to its trunk. Perhaps humans come along and saw pieces off. Maybe its roots are immersed “knee-deep” in water during a flood season, or a drought season makes survival difficult.
If Tree is an evergreen, it will keep it’s needles as it goes into a dormant season. Granted, I have wished more than once that I could have a dormant season for myself, to rest and recuperate from the rigors of my own seasons, storms, lightning, chain saws, floods and blizzards. If Tree is deciduous, it will awaken, depending where Tree lives, sometime between February and May. As it stretches its limbs to the sky, it gets down to the business at hand: budding, developing and flowering. Sounds a bit like our lives again, doesn’t it? For its season, however long it may be (and without groaning that it is either too short or too long) Tree will produce thousands of leaves, each one a near-perfect copy of the others. For pines, tens of thousands, maybe millions of needles. Year one, year 50, year 200, Tree goes right on doing what it is born to do, producing those leaves or needles, growing when the conditions are right, and resting when it is necessary.
Tree will keep up the good fight, no matter what, and will try until defeat and death. As it is with all living things (and, in fact all things in the universe on its grand scale), eventually there is an end. I like to imagine Tree retiring. “I’m going to lay down, right here, next to the rest of you.” At that time, Tree is okay with this end, whether it is after 5 years or 500. Call it destiny, call it nature, call it the randomness of the universe, the circle of all things.
Saplings can be heard all around “Good job, Tree, and thank you for your silent service. You have been a fine example of patience and perseverance. A great neighbor in our community, shading the tender shoots and plants at your base, welcoming, with open limbs, the wildlife; squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, wasps, and anything else that came to you seeking refuge, a home, safety, security, something meaningful and solid that we can know and understand and rely on.”
Even after death, Tree remains an influence. Flora and fauna of certain types will flourish thanks to Tree’s legacy. The many generations growing around Tree will look on, seeking and seeing the testimony to its determination, learning and benefiting from the example, and the knowledge that Tree stood by them, and gave selflessly whenever called upon to do so.
I don’t need riches, recognition or immortality. If my life, and its own end, can be to any degree worthy of Tree’s example, I too will be able to lay down in peace, and return to the earth from which I came.
Be at peace.
Rerun: This post was originally published in 2011. – Paz
I was reading a thing recently about a crew demolishing a building. Someone asks the foreman how long it would take to knock the building down, and what sort of skills were required by the crew. To sum it up, the guy replies that they should be able to knock the whole thing down within a week, and aside from knowing how to work safely, no special skills were required. The observation concludes that it would take many weeks or months, maybe a year or more, to construct the building, and the construction would require many people with well-developed skills. Masons for foundations, welders for steel, electricians & plumbers, painters & roofers, and perhaps consultants for interior design.
In short, it takes longer and requires more skills to build something up than to tear it down.
This is also true of people, and the words we use with one another.
Like the unskilled demolition crew, anyone can speak words of criticism. Complaints, judgement, even derision. These words are pretty easy to come by in the human brain, especially when motivated by aggravation, frustration or anger.
By contrast, it requires greater effort to hold one’s tongue, keep one’s opinions to one’s self, to avoid getting on the band wagon with others complaining or condemning, and especially to keep hurtful things from spitting out of our mouths in the course of an argument, particularly an angry one.
So too, it requires a different and perhaps greater skill to look for the good in situations, to compliment people on the degree to which they got things right, not criticize them for the degree of wrong.
In the heat of battle or when someone is railing or ranting, the conversational side of the brain will feed you many thoughts that it wants you to speak. Maybe it’s the way you feel, or maybe you want to defend a position, or maybe you want to agree with a condemnation being offered.
The sage will understand the old adage “less said the better”. With concentrated effort, one can express that one understands or at least hears the other’s point of view without agreeing or arguing.
In any situation, look for the positive. With any person, look for the chance to share a kind word, and watch for those verbal grenades your automated-language-based brain tries to toss past your teeth.
We went to see an apartment into which someone had recently moved. The street was not well-to-do, or of the newest part of town. The houses were mostly multi-family rentals, and were generally well-worn. One could not describe the sidewalks or alleys as neat or clean. The apartment was at the top of a steep, narrow, windowless staircase. The windows could have used cleaning, and with some effort one could see above the dormers of the house next door, and catch a sliver of the sky and the city beyond. The kitchen floor was from the last century. It looked, in many places, exactly like what is was: a medium-sized second story apartment in an older house, whose tenants probably never stayed more than a year or two. A few marks showed on the walls and woodwork, where families had probably raised rambunctious children, and the landlord probably repainted only when needed.
When asked, I described it thusly:
“It’s quite spacious, with good-sized rooms. It has a brand new carpet in the living room, and a brand new space heater, like the ones I have in my house. A Big kitchen! The windows are big. Tall, old-fashioned windows that let in the light. On sort of a side street, where the traffic seemed pretty light. And cozy! Probably quite efficient to heat!”
Next time you have a chance to describe something or someone, an apartment or even adversary, put your effort into the use of the skills of “craftsmen of the human spirit”, “masters of language”, developed by being practitioners and tradesmen in the arts of compassion and empathy, and build with the materials of positivity, hope, caring and dignity.
Be at peace,
The Wonder Woods beckoned on this perfect September day, and Sasha and I agreed we should be in them.
A lovely walk ensued, up Nishan’s Road, through the Avenue of The Pines, east past the hilltop camp site, past Chuy’s Trail, and down to The Wonder Woods. Heading west on the home leg, I turned onto Thursday Trail, camera in hand, ready to try to capture the soul of this place. To try in vain to produce a two-dimensional image that will in some measure do justice to the overwhelming peacefulness and beauty of Nature’s World.
Not ten steps down Thursday Trail, I spotted a chipmunk, motionless, in the center of the footpath. If you spend much time outdoors, particularly wild places, it’s not unusual to approach an animal so quickly and silently that the napping or distracted creature is suddenly aware of your presence. I watched a squirrel a good long time one day afield, twenty feet in the air, napping. His head rested on folded forelegs, back legs dangling from the branch the way children hang their feet in a pool. I watched a long while wondering if the squirrel was not in fact dead. Never did know. An hour later, the animal hadn’t moved. Next day, of course, was gone. Did he awaken and return to his life, or did his corpse fall to the ground?
More than once I’ve found a dead mouse or mole, lying dead in the grass along a trail. I’ve wondered how they died, and why here? Things need to die on a daily basis, and must fall somewhere. I usually presumed it was a matter of time before a scavenger would come along. A recycling in Nature’s Way.
I returned my focus to the still chipmunk. Rustling and movement did not disturb it. It was not asleep. I pondered about that which may have befallen him. I mindlessly nudged the tiny animal with the toe of a shoe. The chipmunk rolled over a bit, and that’s when I discovered the cause of death. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of dead things in my time, but this was a first. The chipmunk’s abdomen was unusually distorted, and enlarged several times normal size.
At its softest underside, below the intestines, parasitic worms could be seen, their heads emerging from the white fur-covered flesh. This parasite grows to larval stage inside the host, then bores its way through the wall of flesh and to the outside world, to begin the cycle anew. This was a bit shocking and grotesque. The sudden, unexpected discovery, a phenomenon hitherto unwitnessed, and taking place at the expense of this adorable little rodent, whose species I like and admire.
Then the animal moved. Just a short stroke of two paws, barely a movement, followed again by stillness. Knowing what I do of these things and having an appreciation for the natural order, I understood that this must have been a painful course for this little mammal. The parasites literally eating the host alive as they grow and break out. Life and death in the same stroke.
I then entered into a dilemma, a personal conflict. I was almost immediately compelled to kill the chipmunk, to “euthanize” it, to end its suffering. As half of my mind raced through potential actions to dispatch the animal, the other half of my brain was arguing that I must not interfere. There were a number of tenets to prevent me from interfering with this natural occurrence.
First, there is the Armchair Zen Universalism, which regards all things in the universe to be natural and of equal significance. These things don’t always align with the over-thought and over-emotional human animals. The parasite worms have as much right to their natural course as anything else. Secondly, as a naturalist, photographer and sportsman, it’s a big no-no to interfere with whatever you are witnessing. I’m certain I don’t have the mettle or the stomach of the best wildlife photographers and cinematographers, who can cleave to this rule. Even as they watch a fox snatch a gosling from terrified parents, or see a baby gazelle grabbed by a crocodile, bleating and flailing as its mother watches helplessly, silence falling as the gazelle is dragged to its drowning.
The gazelles and geese of this world are cute and soft and sweet in those Disney-reinforced human perceptions. Still the fox and the crocodile and flesh-eating parasites have the same place in the cosmos as geese and gazelles, chipmunks, and me.
“Killing the chipmunk is judgement” I say to myself. “That would be deciding the chipmunk is more worthy than the worm.” What I feel is “Save the warm fuzzy mammal from suffering!”. What I can read is the rule: “DO NOT INTERFERE”.
I walk away conflicted, nearly sick to my stomach over the dichotomy of emotions. After the walk, I could not stop thinking of the chipmunk, in pain and dying, alone in the grass. As I started mowing I reassured myself that it is the natural order of things, and a scavenger has probably made a meal of the rodent, worms included. I could not let go of the obsession, the compulsion. As I mowed the Wonder Woods Trail, I turned into Thursday Trail, sure the animal would be gone.
It was not.
Surely its suffering must be over, surely it must be dead by now.
It was not.
I spent quite a few minutes determining it was not. At first I thought what I’d mistaken for respiration was simply the undulating worms moving beneath and with the animal. As I watched, hopes were dashed as I discerned a rhythm of shallow breaths.
“That’s enough!” my human brain said. This thing doesn’t need to remain alive. The parasites have matured and odds are they would not be harmed. I thought, even looked around a bit, for a rock and a sturdy limb to crush its skull. Another thought, perhaps drive over it with the mower. But that wouldn’t guarantee a kill and would also destroy the worms. I thought of returning to the house and fetching a twenty-two rifle to dispatch the thing.
I stopped and took a deep breath of zen. “Let the cosmos handle it.” I said aloud. I can’t understand everything that goes on in the cosmos. I left the tiny microcosm, that finite piece of the universe where this natural order will be left to itself. I could not shake the scenario from my head or heart, and it’s three days hence now.
The same day, I talked to my neighbor, Betsy. Last week, the Cosmos and natural order came to call on her. As she reached down into some vegetation in her landscaping, a mink leaped up and bit her, sinking its teeth into the soft web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. Panicked, the animal would not let go. Betsy ran next door to Tom & Lynn’s, banging on the door, bloody, yelling “Help! Help!”.
A minor chaos ensued, Tom donned gloves and grabbed tools. Nothing would get the mink to release its grip, and in fact it adjusted and re-sank its teeth for a firmer hold. Finally, Tom wedged its jaws apart with a screwdriver, and ultimately dispatched the animal with a hammer blow. Now, a week later, Betsy shows me the teeth marks in her hand, relates to me the news that the animal was tested, and was not rabid. We speculated as to why, then, the mink would not loose its hold and run away.
Betsy brought my cosmic dilemma full circle. After being attacked by a wild animal, bitten, in pain, bearing fear of rabies. After a chaotic story of noisy panic, trying to pry the animal off of her.
“It had to be tested for rabies,” Betsy concluded. “Still, I felt bad that we had to kill it.”
And balance of life and death and pain and compassion, here in this wondrous cosmos.
Today I feel enmeshed with The World.
As if The Earth’s blood flows through my veins.
As if all these living things are part of me, my kin, and I am responsible for their care when in their midst.
It is a wondrous, warm, comforting feeling of belonging, the likes of which I have not known before.
Difficult to put into words.
An overwhelming peace.