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In the backyard on a Sunday, a few puffy clouds trolling by. Temps in the upper-80s, too warm for New Hampshire, but a consistent breeze and a shady bench make the afternoon near perfect. In a summer daze. Periodic cicadas hum inspired techno, carrying me back to hot evenings in Kansas, some 17-year-multiples of years ago. The birds are a-tweeting, even without cellphones. A few easy ones I recognize: crows, catbirds, chipping sparrows, cardinals, peewees, grackles, starlings, robins. Many more I don’t recognize – another big piece of nature that remains sadly unknown, a mystery unsolved, largely through lack of ambition. There’s more to life than naming things, but getting to know the world around us is at least part of the puzzle of being alive. Before agriculture, it was a life and death matter: If you were unaware of your surroundings and your ecosystem, you died.
But I’m not dead yet, though the odds are increasing. Or maybe they’re not. One way of interpreting the odds is 50:50, if you get my drift. I suppose this is a deep Zen thought – yin I live, yang something else happens. All I know is there’s a bus out there with my name on the front bumper. I’m just trying to stay out of its path. Of course, it’s the one you don’t see that sneaks up on you. At present I have friends with lymphoma, stage 3 prostate cancer, stage 4 breast cancer, hospice-stage leukemia, and hospice stage aneurisms. On the other hand, my 101-year-old friend Walter is doing daily laps – slow and steady – around the grounds, happy to still have the green side down.
The upshot is to live in the moment. The past and future are mere fig newtons of our hyperactive imaginations – monkey-mind chatterings. Memory, like history, is pretty much a fairy tale we tell ourselves to help make sense of the randomness and insanity that greets most of our waking (and sleeping) hours. It’s a hand-hold, a comfort, but it has only a tenuous relation to reality. And in similar fashion the future lets us make believe we can plan ahead, that we’re going someplace. There’s a reason why Walt Disney called his first creation “Fantasyland” – what an inspired marketing gimmick! But you can’t get there from here. As John Lennon noted, “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” Or something along those lines, I don’t remember exactly.
Exactly! The old adage, across many cultures, is that you can’t step into the same river twice. Time and our lives keep flowing along, and the best we can hope to do is feel the cool river-bottom mud as it squishes up between our toes.
One of my favorite stories to ponder is that of the man being chased by a tiger. To escape, he leaps off a cliff, but the cliff hangs over an abyss. He reaches out and grabs a small tree limb. As he hangs, suspended between the tiger above and certain death below, he spies a strawberry on an outcropping nearby. He reaches out and picks the fruit. A strawberry had never tasted so sweet!
And on that melodious note, I’m gonna go stick my feet in the mud.
— Dr. Dirt accepts humble kowtows from John Hart, dba Environments, Durham NH.