My younger self often thought that by the time I reached old age I would have figured things out. What a surprise it has been to realize answers to lifelong questions have gotten more and more complex and understanding seems farther away than ever.
Of late the pressing question is whether “reality” is basically negative or whether that viewpoint—seeing the dark side of things as the truth of existence—is a deliberate choice. A friend pointed this out to me in a recent conversation. Such friends are gifts, pushing us to examine where our thinking has perhaps gone off the rails. How else can we continue to expand our horizons at a time they most need expansion if we are not nudged into re-examination of our thinking?
Are we living in dark times? Media exposure screams examples of this view constantly but that particular “truth” insures we return to that trough, therefore reinforcing their existence and their profits. Where can I look to find light while staying grounded? What tools, what methods, are available to counterbalance negativity? These may be harder questions headed into winter but for all of that the summer was far from easy.
The first storm since early spring, a nor’easter, blasted the northeast coast for two days this week. The surf pounded incessantly coming in far too close while the power went out and the house grew cold. My internal resources felt drained by the storm’s intensity. Looking out at a calm summer ocean it was easy to forget the power of wild water that cannot and will not be controlled. Nature always has the last word reminding us mere humans we are specks of existence in a much larger picture.
Starting the normal routine of the day I glanced out at the water and moved immediately to the porch door. The air held a slight chill, a fall–no longer summer–feel to the morning with the scent of brine traveling to my nostrils holding me, that smell addiction, deep breaths, the whiff that always stops me in my tracks until it’s moved past. A fairly large storm system had moved through during the night and I was watching its remnants move out over the water. Everything was moving. A hole in the clouds let defined light break through to the surface of the water; the uneven clouds, some heavier and darker than others, some moving lightly with grace; a flock of geese or ducks working out their formation on the leg of their journey southward that passed in front of this house. They were black silhouetted forms, individuals juggling positions, flying low over the water just off shore.
A vivid color palette, the contrasts surprising in this hour a result of the changing weather systems. Science explains yet art or mysticism comes as overlays adding dimensions—the grass still bright green shimmering wet from rain, the deep red invasive bittersweet vines winding around dark rocks, the dense clouds dark blue. Looking south edgy tendril clouds playfully thinned out into swirls of pearly grey with a touch of near yellow. Translucent green, that wholly other water green swirled in curls as the waves broke before the rocks and bright white spray soared upward released from the mass body of water below, freed for just an instant. This is not a “one picture is worth a thousand words” morning. There is so much going on I am attempting to hang on to every moment, my human senses all working to feel, smell, see the entirety and yet…
I use the tool at hand to first remind and then to share but the camera lenses can only do so much. All senses open, the human can only take in so much. “Vast” lies beyond mere humanity. This world at the edge of land is big and small at the same time. How can I go about a mundane day after witnessing such spectacle? And yet, that is what happens. What would life mean if we remained caught in such continual awareness?
Do you feel that you are in control of your life? Long ago I came to the conclusion that “control” means the choice of how I react to other people’s actions which has been about the only real control there has been in my life. From medical procedures to the roof over your head there is often very little you can do if you don’t like the way things are going other than to suck it up, figure it out, and keep going.
Gardeners often learn quite early in their efforts that no matter how much we do or how much we know, we will only be able to affect what comes of our efforts in accordance with what Nature brings each growing season. Precipitation, temperature, insects and wildlife appetites all determine what will thrive and what will not. Gardening is a wonderful way to learn that control only goes just so far.
While Control has always been an issue in human lives, current issues of Control underlie daily media stories from pandemic masking issues to political actions and viewpoints. The public actions of some get louder and increasingly dangerous which seems to me to illustrate continued beliefs by many that Control is possible. Is it really possible to live an entire lifetime not ever learning that Control is at best something with very confined limitations but mostly it is a fantasy residing inside of your head?
Childhood is a time of no control despite tantrums and other small protests and so too, is aging. No matter how strongly you built your body through a lifetime of nutrition and physical activity it is likely if you live long enough you will experience some type of breakdown. Rather than seeing this through fear, think of it as an opportunity for grace for grace is the counterpoint of Control; it is bending in the force of the gale; it is learning that you are part of a whole which you may never see nor understand. Inside grace there is an entire world of trust, something often lacking in the desperate longing for Control.
I watched the ocean for a long time one recently unexpectedly blessed October day when the warmth of summer returned as a gift. Blue green waves rolled toward the rocks in intervals, breaking before they hit the shoreline. It was the iconic vision of ocean in its rhythmic beauty, the vast power of water seemingly tame but winter ocean is just ahead and that is the ocean which rarely lets you forget that you are not in charge nor will you ever be. This is nature’s hand, the disguise of the iron fist inside of the velvet glove, the reminder for all of the other part of our lives.
Summer’s gone but October has given those of us in the Northeast a few days of blessed summer-like weather. It has been wonderful. I’m wondering about all the things that people have squeezed into this reprieve. I used it to wash the ocean side windows, always a foolish task as the first high tide with accompanying rough water will send the salt spray back on to the glass but still, it is satisfying to clean windows on a bright and sunny day when there is instant gratification from the now clearer sparkle on the water. I also washed the screens, a chore I usually leave until spring, but there were many seeds and plant matter lodged firmly in the grids, particularly from the thistles that produced a bumper crop this year. I know the thistle plant (outside of Scotland) is often considered a noxious weed but there’s a flock of resident goldfinches who live out here year round who particularly love thistle seed. Without doubt my guess is that they prefer to dine on them au natural as opposed to eating them from the hanging porch thistle feeder in the freezing winter months.
After washing,a few screens went back up in case the reprieve lingers or (hopehopehope) returns before the first snowfall. Removing the screens improves the amount of light by 50% which really counts in darkest December.
Early this afternoon I looked up to see this lobster boat checking traps in front of the house. Not that much lobstering happened out there this past summer although the tourist traffic was heavy. My guess is there were many vacationers’ bellies containing lobster after heading to “shacks” either here or elsewhere on the coast. Despite the going rate of $69 per pound for picked lobster meat—-that’s even above the usual winter’s elevated cost—-those classic rolls were still selling to those who wanted this “Maine experience”. Ordering four lobster rolls, one each for Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis, set a family back over $100 without extras including drinks.
Despite all the blather of lost jobs and pandemic-related economic hardship, these calamities seemed not to include those flocks of folks in out of state cars streaming into Maine from earliest April through September. There are signs the season is finally slowing and it will be more evident after the leaf-peeping on Indigenous People’s weekend. Businesses have had a tough season with pandemic numbers soaring and being incredibly short-staffed. Many have been directly affected by losing workers and operation time because of spreading infections. I suspect this may also be the case for lobster men and women who choose to sit this season out or figured out how to make money in an less strenuous job.
But that boat and that lobsterman came close enough for me to see a smile on the face of a hardworking man out on the water on this unexpectedly gorgeous day. It certainly looked like summer out there.
Early in the day there were periodic rumblings of which I could make little sense. It was as much of a vibration as it was a sound. It went on for quite a long time. Finally, it dawned on me that the rhythms most felt like thunder although there weren’t any signs of an approaching storm.
One of the weather apps (WeatherBug: the one with the lightning reporting system) showed storms offshore,–out over the ocean–where the intensity of the vibrations and sound was being magnified by traveling over the water. Because the storm had not passed overhead, and because in the gray of the morning there we no visible flashes of light, the thought of thunderstorms did not occur to me.
This continuing experience of not paying attention to things “outside of my realm” was explained in another way a bit later as I listened to a podcast interview with Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus. We self- centered humans have been excruciatingly slow in recognizing not only the intelligence of animals but of their rich, emotional lives and, especially, of their relationship to the planet that is theirs. Ever so slowly we are beginning to learn and incorporate that we have vastly underestimated that other planetary creatures have as much as an intrinsic right to be here. We have also vastly overestimated our right to the same thing.
This is not going to slide into a PETA Animal Rights diatribe nor a superiority laced case for vegetarian/vegan eating. I cannot ignore that many of the animals on the planet view most other species (sometimes including their own) as food. To me to declare that humans have the ability to not eat animals places us in a similar position of being superior to other species that do and I am not willing to goo there. You have or will make your own choices out of what makes sense to you.
My present awareness is that it is humans who seem to believe they are at the top of the food chain is what entitles us to do with the planet’s resources as we damn well please. Our profound self-centeredness is what is putting the planet in environmental jeopardy and we are directly responsible for the continuing loss of other species. What we did not know, and refused to consider, means the last laugh will not be ours.
“How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves”