Bridge to nowhere

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We don’t always know where we’re going until we get there.  But if you’re like me, you plan ahead even if you don’t know the destination or when you’ll arrive.

While I don’t want to delve into specifics at this time, I want to say my life has had its share of challenges in recent months.  So as part of my contingency plan, I have a series of scheduled posts that will begin appearing if I’m out of pocket for a certain amount of time.  This is the first such post.

I began calling this journey my “bridge to nowhere” because, like these photos taken at White Rock Lake in January 2008, it’s a path obscured in the distance and only clear in this moment, in this place where I stand right now.

I’ve tried to include a variety of topics in these posts.  That seemed important to me for many reasons, not the least of which are that I don’t know the destination and I don’t want to set/reset the tone of my blog based on a single event.  Besides, I’m too capricious to maintain a theme.

So long as these posts are showing up, it means I’m out of pocket.  Hopefully I’m not in jail because that would be downright embarrassing!  And hopefully I won’t be gone long because I’ve only planned a finite number of posts over a finite period of time.

Please note that my absence means I can’t respond to comments.  But don’t let that stop you from speaking your piece.  While I might not be part of the conversation, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to each other, and it certainly doesn’t mean I won’t catch up later.

And in closing, some of you are aware of my circumstances.  That disclosure also was part of my contingency plan.  All I ask is that you not share that information in an identifiable way.  So long as there’s life in these old bones of mine, I don’t want this hanging over my head in the future.

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Footnote for the technically minded: Though this absence is not necessarily unforeseen, it is unscheduled.  And because I couldn’t schedule posts according to specific dates since these will only show up if I’m gone unexpectedly, I scheduled them based on a trigger file and a cron job that runs hourly.  So long as the trigger file was updated, the posts would remain unseen.  Once that trigger file became so many days old, however, the cron job would start processing the posts.  Thus you will see at the bottom of each post a small marker.  That tells the cron job that it’s a “bridge to nowhere” post followed by how many days to wait before posting it followed by what time in UTC to post it. Yes, I’m a big ol’ geek if ever there was one!

[my apologies for reposting this; I had intended not to share this series and so had removed this entry, but after some though I’ve decided to go ahead with these posts]

Things I meant to say – Introduction

Of all the rash and midnight promises made in the name of love, none is more certain to be broken than “I’ll never leave you.”  What time doesn’t steal from under our noses, circumstance will.  It’s useless to hope otherwise, useless to dream that the world somehow means us good.  Everything of value, everything we cling to for our sanity, will rot or be snatched in the long run, and the abyss will gape beneath us, and suddenly, without so much as a breath of explanation, we will be gone.  Professions of love and all…[1]

A common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) in bloom (20080114_01294_ab)

Flowers are temporary, impermanence manifest in things destined to fulfill a single mission in life before vanishing into history’s ethereal grasp.  Most would say we appreciate them because of their beauty.  I disagree.  We appreciate them because we can never truly possess them, much like we can never truly possess the air we breathe.  Cut a flower from its mother plant and it withers and dies; leave it on its stem and it becomes pollinated and transforms into something else entirely.  It is ours only to appreciate for moments, always fated to disappear before our eyes, never to be ours for more than a season.

People and our relationships with them, like flowers, are temporary things, dark specters that flit through our lives before departing.  Why?  I’ve said before that “[e]verything is made to be broken,” that in this “universe that shelters us, nothing is eternal.”  We do not live forever.  People come and go.  Relationships change.  And our unfortunate tendency to always look to what we do not have, to always want what is not already in our possession, means we too often leave a wake of regrets in our personal lives.

What do we regret?  Opportunities squandered?  Assumptions about having time?  Taking for granted those things which should matter?  All these and more.

Regrets are cancerous, ghoulish demons that live forever in the shadows of our memory, tormenting our souls with what could have been.  We cannot go back in time and correct them.  We cannot undo what has been done.  We cannot take back words once said and we cannot say words after their bill is past due.

Regrets are manifestations of too late.  We were too late to say what needed to be said.  We were too late to offer what needed to be offered.  We were too late to realize we had taken the wrong path.  We were too late to act.

Regrets haunt the living with those two most painful words: what if.

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.[2]

A common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) seed head (20080114_01287_ab)

In my memorial entry about Derek, Scott made a good point: “I hope you told him these things when he was with you, too, because it sounds as if they were well deserved. It would be a shame if only we–and not he-–knew how deeply you felt for him.”  And though Derek knew precisely how I felt about him, the point hit me on a larger scale: what has gone unsaid?

My dear and beloved Annie is going through a worrying time with Jacques.  It has become clear he might not make a full recovery this time, might not have the time left that so many wish for him.  Through the ups and downs, the will he or won’t he, I keep pondering what regrets she might feel were he not to make it through this battle.  Are there things she meant to say?

I have kept an offline journal for more than 30 years.  In it I have spilled both the mundane and the profound.  Very few of its handwritten scribblings[3] have ever seen the light of day, and perhaps that will always be the case.  But recent events have begged of me the unending stream of “what if…” questions.

So I am opening the pages of my personal thoughts in order to share here a new recurring series called “Things I meant to say”[4].  It will cover areas that heretofore remained sacred territory betwixt me and those for whom these words were penned.

Some of those involved have long since passed away; some have left my life and moved on with their own; and some are as close to me now as they have ever been.  As a matter of decency, allow me in advance to apologize to those who may find themselves caught in this torrent of truth.  I will make every attempt to manage revelations in the same manner with which I handle all personal disclosure on this site: through obfuscation.

A plains sunflower (a.k.a. petioled sunflower or prairie sunflower; Helianthus petiolaris) facing the sunrise (20080726_09939_ab)

This is how we go on: one day at a time, one meal at a time, one pain at a time, one breath at a time.  Dentists go on one root-canal at a time; boat-builders go on one hull at a time.  If you write books, you go on one page at a time.  We turn from all we know and all we fear.  We study catalogues, watch football games, choose Sprint over AT&T.  We count the birds in the sky and will not turn from the window when we hear the footsteps behind us as something comes up the hall; we say yes, I agree that clouds often look like other things—fish and unicorns and men on horseback—but they really are only clouds.  Even when the lightning flashes inside them we say they are only clouds and turn our attention to the next meal, the next pain, the next breath, the next page.  This is how we go on.[5]

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Notes:

[1] Paraphrased from Cabal by Clive Barker

[2] From a syndicated column by Sydney J. Harris in the January 8, 1951, edition of the Daily Courier of Waterloo, Iowa

[3] I could easily type my offline journal in some electronic notebook without making it available online.  I could still call it an “offline journal” and I could still keep it private.  But I’ve never given up the profound joy and mental stimulation that comes from putting pen to paper, from holding a writing implement in my hand and letting it channel my thoughts.  I believe the act of writing serves as an exercise for the mind that is lost in front of a keyboard.

[4] This is the first of at least a few recurring blog post themes that will come directly from my offline journal.  As I’ve reviewed that hefty collection these past months, I’ve realized there’s some worth in sharing bits and pieces here.

[5] From Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Mexico – Part 3

We forgo breakfast with Preciliano’s aunt and uncle, instead heading immediately to San Cristóbal’s zócalo, or town square.  What a marvelous place to walk, this city, with its gentle hills, comfortable weather, compact heart and graph paper-like layout.

The pleasure of moving about on foot stems not only from the ease of navigation, but also from breathtaking vistas hidden behind each corner.  Dense jungle and mountainous landscapes rest in plain sight waiting to be appreciated.  Each block passed meant one more stop, one more glance down the street to see what majestic view lay framed by the historic architecture.

We reach the central square, Plaza 31 de Marzo, and I’m taken aback. Wood-smoke fumes drift across the historic center, carrying with it wisps of delectable meals still cooking.  The zócalo’s bordering cafés feel lively, affluent tourists leaving the elegant hotels dotting the area and finding their collective way to the day’s first meal.  Yet it is the pedestrian market set atop the warming cobblestone that most draws our attention.

The plaza rests anchored by a two-story gazebo.  The exuberant green of its ironwork contains a café that bustles with activity.  The same leafy color, Crayola in nature, spreads outward to cast-iron benches and street lamps, tall tridents the hue of playful grass.

The graceful feel of the colonial square contrasts with the unending parade of Mayans.  Women dress in intricately woven shawls of azure and crimson; men wear sombreros festooned with ribbons and tunics of bright floral patterns.  A group of young girls sweeps by in a wave of satin blouses, festive yarn tying back long plaits of raven hair that seems too beautifully dark to be black.

Preciliano mentions the significance of the colors and patterns, each signifying the person’s village.  We have no time to venture into the countryside during this visit, though each of us speaks longingly of the magic we could experience in the Tzotzil and Zinacantán worlds hidden in the surrounding jungle.  Their worlds survive in those places, hidden and protected, native lives lived in native ways, centuries-old peoples and places that prefer only to sip from 21st-century life.

We stroll aimless and directionless through the informal market, visually sampling the wares of indigenous artisans: rich embroidered peasant blouses beautifully patterned with designs drawn from Maya cosmology; stunning handwoven blankets and tablecloths that seem more appropriate for museum display than piled high in makeshift sales pitches; masterful leather belts that feel of a loving quality not found in any mass-produced line; and jewelry that ranges from cheap to exquisite, but which all beckons to times and peoples not found in modern society.

Yet the smell of morning delicacies becomes too much to ignore, our quest to the city center having been for food, not folly, so we leisurely stroll the fringes of the zócalo looking for breakfast.  There is time enough to explore, we know.

It’s not always pretty

I recently realized how much my blogging focused on the more attractive aspects of nature.  What a shame!  Any true naturalist worth the label will spend as much time picking through scat and vomit, let alone investigating carcasses, as they will admiring the mimetic properties of certain moths or the varied glories of warbler songs.

Nature isn’t always pretty.  In fact, it’s often full of things people find horrifying or disgusting.  To appreciate it all—the good and the bad—is a sign of a true naturalist.  Because discoveries and knowledge can be found in both the beautiful and the terrible.  I would just as readily show a dead animal or a parasitized live animal as I would a slithering snake in good health.  Yet I haven’t shown much of the bad.  So now it’s time to fix that.

In the deep coastal woods that define the Dagger Point Trail of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, I came upon a fresh bit of evidence that something had been suffering from an upset stomach.

Coyote vomit (2010_01_12_048659)

The whole mass was about the size of two fists.  That’s a lot of grass.  Given how much whole grass there was, it seems most likely to have been a canid.  And given the location, that means a coyote (Canis latrans).

Research on canids eating grass has resulted in an interesting truth: how they eat it determines what happens next.  If they nibble and chew the grass, it goes down like everything else and is processed normally; this seems to be a way of augmenting their diet (adding roughage as it were).  But when they gulp it down—swallow the grass whole—it becomes their syrup of ipecac, essentially acting as an emetic (something that induces vomiting).

Coyote vomit (2010_01_12_048662)

Digging through the wet pile revealed nothing more than grass with some twigs and some dead leaves.  A few bits might have been bone and a few might have been fur, but honestly there was too little of the non-grass stuff to make heads or tails of.  Well, that and it was all glued together with saliva and gastric juices that melded it all into a sort of turf stew.  I suppose the coyote in question had suffered from an upset stomach long enough to have nothing else to throw up except the grass it ate to cure its ailment.

It’s fascinating to realize canine species learn this emetic trick and use it when necessary.  Most people associate it with dogs since that’s the only experience they’ll have with it, but it’s obvious their genetic cousins also practice this home remedy to cure tummy problems.

OK, I understand if you need something to cleanse your visual and mental palates after that, so here’s a great egret (Ardea alba) to leave you with a better taste in your brain.

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing in a shallow bay (2009_10_03_030090)

Like the coyote in question, I hope you feel better now.

The unseen – Part 1

There comes a time when the world ends.
Sucked inside a speck of dust.
And it stays like that for untellable time.
— Bhikkhu Sujato

Umbels of spotted water hemlock (a.k.a. spotted parsley or spotted cowbane; Cicuta maculata) in full bloom (20080629_08473_ab)

They no longer fool either of us, the gratuitous leaves of your platitudes, but instead they fall at my feet, more autumnal detritus to be swept away by the winds of change.

“Come,” you say, “let our intellects wrestle.”  Now the truth.

We stumble along boulevards of ideas, the two of us directed only by your wanton greed.  So much passes unnoticed.  Not by me, of course, for the silken pleasures and the heartfelt aches are mine.  Yet they matter not in the world you create for us, the world over which you rule.

Your rapt gaze falls elsewhere, toward the irrelevancies of others.  Their smallest dawns are your brightest sunrises, their every whisper a profound ringing in your ears.  And I walk alone in the shadow you cast, a puppy begging scraps dropped to keep me there.

How am I?  The question rings hollow now, finally, at last.  Its rhetoric stands as clear as glass, though it was not always so.  But then that remains true of much between us.  I needed time to see, to open my eyes wide so they might consume what is as opposed to what might be.  Emotional worth is a most potent intellectual blinder.

The sun setting behind a small strip of clouds (20081011_13814_ab)

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
— T. S. Eliot