Friday, April 17, 2009

in nature's infinite book of secrecy, I can read a little

Yesterday I had work only from 6-9 p.m., so I made sure to get out into the sunshine for a few hours in the afternoon. Lots of the usual birds were about, creating an irregular but pleasant cacophony in the air all around. People were out in full force as well, lounging on the lawns, lobbing objects into the air to be retrieved by friends or canines, or just strolling joyfully into the green, like me.

I love the feeling I sometimes get of being in on Mother Nature's secrets, as if she puts her hand on my shoulder and whispers, "I made this just for you." Yesterday afternoon I had just come through the secluded Lullwater paths out to the bridge across from the Boathouse. I noticed a distinct shift in the feeling of peace in the air. It was a shift from my personal "reveling-in-nature's details" (fungi growing on fallen trees, robins buried in leaf litter in search of the perfect worm) sort of peace to a more communal "hey everyone, isn't this a great day to be alive" (let's throw sticks in the water and climb on rocks and soak in the sun) kind of feeling. It was just as I felt that kinship with all these human friends, in their separate lives joined by sunlit joy, that I felt Mother Nature's hand steer me to the water's edge. The gift she left for me that day was perched on a short branch sticking up from the water - an impossibly tiny eastern painted turtle. I looked around in disbelief that no one else had noticed or was marvelling at this tiny fellow, warming in the sun like the rest of us. I took some photos but they don't do justice to the smallitude of the creature. It's a hard lesson to learn, but some things are meant to be enjoyed in the moment of experience and only in fond memory thereafter.

Last night as I made my way to the train after work, I had a completely different experience. Two men had a powerful telescope set up outside Smiling Pizza, and I must have been smiling quizzically as I approached, because one of them asked if I'd like to look at Saturn. I jumped at the chance, of course, and saw that distant planet, its rings vertical, and two other heavenly bodies nearby, relatively speaking, and the blackness which holds them all. I saw something that's so impossibly far away that it makes everything we know to be past that point seem all the more unlikely. I love being reminded of just how small we are and how little we know, because it makes the journey to understanding that much longer and the drive to get somewhere that much more urgent. It's humbling yet challenging, and I think that's a good place for humanity to have to start over again and again. We're a curious and resilient species, and I hope we never find out all there is to know, because thenceforth there will be no place for hope in the world. And just as much as humans need love to survive, there's something to be said for the presence of hope in the individual and in society. I wondered briefly at the chances that any regular person would ever get to see something as magnificent and far-off as Saturn. Then I realized those men must love the sky and its contents as much as I love the Earth and its inhabitants. The wonders are waiting for us all around, hidden and giggling like guests at a surprise party. All we have to do as guests of honor is show up.

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