After A Tree Falls

Back in September of last year, I posted an account of the removal of the tree out in front of my home, whose presence we had enjoyed for the previous thirty years of residence in our neighborhood, and I shared a video of me reciting the poem I wrote in response to the event itself, but also to the significance of the event for me personally, as the caretaker of that magnificent natural structure.

Since posting that account, I have observed the natural progress of the living entities which surround our modest home, and have marveled at the tenacity and the almost human determination exhibited by the plants and trees to not only survive, but also to thrive, in spite of the determined efforts on my part to remove and diminish their presence at my location.

While I have not really wanted to conduct the necessary trimming and pruning and removal of the natural plants and trees in the yard, intellectually I understood the need for doing so, and deliberately approached the tasks with respect and affection, even as I had to acknowledge that my efforts were, in some ways, detrimental to the natural life all around me.

Back in December of 2018, I posted images of the results of my pruning and removal efforts out in my front yard, where a sapling descended from the original tree out front had grown so tall and so formidably so close to the house that I had to remove it.  After I chopped the fledgling tree down to less than a foot from the ground, I followed up with an image of the bush that sprang up from the stump I left in the ground.

In an image I shared that was taken in the following autumn of 2019, you could see that the “bush” had not turned to the colorful results I had hoped would occur, and I supposed at that time that there wouldn’t be such a development.

In the spring of 2020, I forcibly removed all of the ivy crawling up the front of the house, and cut the stump completely down to the ground level once again. 

Imagine my astonishment when I began to attend to the summer outdoor chores this year of cutting the grass and straightening up the yard, and observed the incredibly dynamic return of almost every living thing out in front of the house.  The ivy had not only returned, but appeared to be twice as thick and dense as it was when I had removed it.

Fast forward to June of 2021, and against every expectation, not only had the “bush” from the sapling returned with a vengeance, but the stump of the original tree out front had sprouted new life in an amazing display of determination in resisting the efforts to be removed completely.

Clearly, I had taken no pleasure whatsoever in the removal of the tree out front, even though it was done with respect and due consideration of what was necessary and prudent, given the circumstances.  My admiration for the power of nature to restore itself had already been well established, and my awareness of the sometimes astonishing abilities of the natural world to replenish itself in the face of detrimental conditions and adverse circumstances had been admired by me, well before any of these events.   

While consideration and reflection by me on all of these ideas had taken place over the course of many years of participation in activities in the remote forests and mountains of the northeast corridor of the USA, and elsewhere, it occurred to me that knowledge of these principles could just as easily have happened, right in my own yard.

It seems likely that it will be necessary, as time progresses, to attend to these matters with some degree of regularity, if I am to maintain a handle on the chaos and dynamics playing out in my local plot of land, but even as I plan for the steps to take to keep nature at bay here, I realize that the natural world cannot be tamed completely, no matter where you travel in the world. 

What You Hold In Thought

“The evolution of life in the double direction of individuality and association has nothing accidental about it: it is due to the very nature of life.”

“Essential also is the progress to reflection. If our analysis is correct, it is consciousness, or rather supra-consciousness, that is at the origin of life. Consciousness, or supra-consciousness, is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which subsists of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them up into organisms.”

“The effort we make to transcend pure understanding introduces us into that more vast something out of which our understanding is cut, and from which it has detached itself. And, as matter is determined by intelligence, as there is between them an evident agreement, we cannot make the genesis of the one without making the genesis of the other. An identical process must have cut out matter and the intellect, at the same time, from a stuff that contained both. Into this reality we shall get back more and more completely, in proportion as we compel ourselves to transcend pure intelligence.”

“On this new ground philosophy ought then to follow science, in order to superpose on scientific truth knowledge of another kind, which may be called metaphysical. Thus combined, all our knowledge, both scientific and metaphysical, is heightened. In the absolute we live and move and have our being. The knowledge we possess of it is incomplete, no doubt, but not external or relative. It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and of philosophy.”

—excerpts from “Creative Evolution,” by Henri Bergson, 1907

The world is neither simply what we perceive it to be, nor is it strictly a metaphysical mystery beyond our understanding.  These two apparently opposing approaches to our understanding are, it seems to me, more correctly to be two components of the same conundrum.  We tend these days to gravitate toward specialization in almost every arena of endeavor, and in doing so, we seem often to be missing the larger picture of what might be most helpful in increasing our understanding generally.

Mr. Bergson wrote extensively about the nature of matter and intelligence more than 100 years ago, and even without the accelerated advances in knowledge we enjoy currently, correctly framed the question of how we might advance our understanding.  We cannot simply focus on a narrow selection of material, intellectual, or spiritual criteria and cannot reasonably consider only one approach as sufficient to give us the broadest understanding.  Mr. Bergson just wasn’t equipped enough by the technology of his day to take it further.

Today, we know more and understand better about the world in which we live, but we are still struggling to catch up on the broadest inclusion of ideas possible, and we must allow the full investigation to proceed in each of the three realms of material, intellectual, and the spiritual.  It’s not possible to eliminate any reasonable approach just yet, but these three each have important components to contribute.  It’s a generalization in terms of describing the issue, but we definitely need to expand our realm of possibilities to include a variety of approaches which just may support the others in some useful way.

Lots of new material is in progress here at John’s Consciousness, and I hope my visitors and readers will be patient with me as I navigate the path forward.  I have been immersed in some of the most important and profound life works of my nearly 70 years of living this past year or so, and, like most of us, I feel like I just want to break out of isolation into something that truly matters.  I’ve been developing a new approach to sharing my writing here, and when I am ready, I will begin to engage more fully with the content of my writings, and to share more fully the ideas which occupy my heart, mind, and soul. 

Stay tuned.

The Greens and Colors of Hope Return

The view out of my office window

Spring has been fully underway since mid-April on the Eastern seaboard in America, but it’s taken these past few weeks to really blossom into the spectacular array of greens and colors that we’ve come to expect during this time. The contrast in the character of the currently available scenery is illuminating when compared to that of the winter views like the one below here out of the same window last winter.

Whenever we consider the state of our personal reality, it’s important to maintain a degree of perspective in both cases. During the winter, the natural course of the season includes the loss of leaves on most trees, fewer sunny days and fewer hours of daylight, and the eventual absence of most colors provided by the plants and trees in our local region. Once the winter season begins to wane, the natural progression toward the spring begins, the renewal of every living thing becomes a much anticipated event that provides an astonishing array of scenes, even just in the modest confines of the property surrounding our humble home.

The greens are the first and most noticeable colors to appear.

Prior to the arrival of spring, the backyard looked particularly devoid of color, and looking up into the trees had little to appeal to the eyes, except perhaps as a contrast of black and white limbs against a grey sky.

Once the spring gets fully underway, the contrast and the vivid colors among the leaves is quite a sight!

The green leaves are really starting to fill out now.

But in order to truly feel the full effect of the change of seasons, I usually have to wait until the last week of April and the first week of May, when all around the house bursts of color explode!

Pink Azaleas
purple flowers and hyacinth
traditional daffodils
yellow azaleas
Hard as I try, I can’t seem to stop the relentless crawling of the ivy in the yard.
Flowers out in the front yard.
Tulips are usually the last to show up.

With all of the chaos and isolation of the past year, almost everyone has held out hope that by the summer or early fall we might be able to emerge from the social distancing, and most everywhere you go, the conversations surround the attainment of both doses of the covid 19 vaccine. Up until recently, finding a spot on a list was a daunting task, and most often, unless you had some particular condition or were of a certain age, the wait was indefinite. In my case, as a part-time “essential worker,” I was fortunate enough to qualify through my employer to receive the opportunity a few weeks ago. I had to travel over fifty-two miles to a large site operated by the National Guard and wait in line with hundreds of other individuals to attend a drive-thru inoculation.

Winding my way through the lines of cars waiting to get the vaccine.
After about an hour in line, I finally approached the vaccine distribution tent.

After the long winter in isolation, other than for the most essential tasks, we are finally beginning to see the gradual lessening of restrictions, and as someone fully vaccinated, I can be less concerned about my own health regarding the virus, and can look forward to being together with my other family members who are also vaccinated. The return to even a modicum of normalcy feels very much like the arrival of spring, with the renewal of life and the return of the vibrant colors in the yard, matching up quite well with the hopeful anticipation of a season of living and renewal long awaited this year, perhaps more than ever before.

While there is still much to do to recover and to move forward across the globe, the greens and colors of hope available in my own yard are encouraging to me personally, and I am hopeful that with time, the rest of the world will catch up also, and that the terrible lessons we had to learn over the past year or so will provide us all with an incentive to renew our hope, and increase our determination to make the best of our individual circumstances, as we navigate the years ahead.

A Cascade of Autumn Leaves

 

Last Gasp of Summer

Sitting out in the backyard on a November morning with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures approaching 75 degrees F, sipping on my morning coffee, it seems almost surreal given the circumstances.  Perhaps it is the last gasp of summer, or simply a consequence of a random twist or turn in the weather patterns bringing warmer air from the south currently, but whatever is responsible, it is a welcome development. The warmth of the sun on my skin is oddly out of sync with the calendar as we approach mid-November, but even as I embrace the experience of the ambient air and savor the flavor of my morning jo, I know well that it cannot last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and allow the thoughts to flow out of me while it lasts.

 

 

The day is young and there isn’t much activity in the surrounding area yet, so it is relatively quiet, with a few more distant sounds barely discernible in the background. Within there is a barely noticeable sensation of anticipation, which seems to be cautiously awaiting acknowledgement as I let go of the temporal stream of events, and open to the vibrations of my inner life.  So much of what flows through the conscious mind can be ignored or cast aside in favor of the immediate circumstance one finds one’s self in until an effort is made to focus more specifically on a separate task, and it takes an extra degree of attention to filter out what may somehow interrupt the flow of attention and disrupt your focus.

 

As I sat contemplating my next sentence, a tiny baby spider dropped on my laptop screen, momentarily interrupting my concentration, just as a curious young squirrel stirred right beside my chair, apparently expecting some sort of attention as well. 

 

Intermittent Moments of Silence

The silence is intermittent as the neighbors on either side of us stir and attend to their chores, but as I wait for the next moment of silence, I begin to notice other audible intrusions in the distance.  The leaves have begun to fall in earnest now from the backyard tree and with the gentle wind stirring occasionally, bits of tree branches or other debris also drops to the ground, disturbing the intermittent silences.

It is curious to me how much is transpiring at every moment in the yard that is only apparent when sitting in a chair awaiting the moments of quiet.  The movements of nature are generally detectable as they catch my eye, whereas the actions of people are obvious at a much greater distance since they can be heard more easily than seen.  As the sounds reach my ears and are processed by my brain, I am able to discern what they are and to decipher the degree of attention they may or may not deserve, but the activity of the natural inhabitants in the yard barely make a sound.

Now it has become a contest to see how long I can go with near-total silence before being interrupted by one or the other of the distractions currently available.  The relentless drone of distant traffic is easy enough to filter out, and the occasional bird song or squirrel chatter isn’t particularly intrusive, but even a distant single-engine plane can intrude in a way that requires a pause in the absorption of silence.

 

Melancholy Beauty

There’s a distinctly melancholy beauty about such an afternoon.  There’s hardly a cloud in the deeply blue sky; the air is unusually warm and dry; the wind rises and then dissipates in an unpredictable rhythm.  The cats have joined me in the afternoon sun, attending to their routines at my feet, and as I type these words, I feel a degree of calm that is uncommonly pleasing and refreshing.  I’m almost hypnotized by the sweetness and delightful lack of concern I’m experiencing about what comes next. This is a new sensation for me, and even though I know it will not persist as the day rambles on toward the darkness of night, I am content to allow myself to absorb each and every aspect of this sensation for as long as it lasts.  I am able to close my eyes briefly and imagine a time and place where such delight might be available on demand, but quickly realize that the pleasure is heightened by the rarity of opportunity for such experiences, and easily dismiss the idea in favor of the kind of serendipity which produced these circumstances.  When I open my eyes, I begin to look around and observe my world of the moment, to take notice of this melancholy beauty.  

 

The leaves are thinner on the branches than they were yesterday.  They are falling all around me. The air is oddly warmer than usual for the middle of November; there is a gentle breeze that stirs every so often which releases the tenuous leaves for their short trip to the ground, and there are thousands of leaves already laying on every surface outside.  It’s hard to believe that I had swept off the porch out back just yesterday, when I stand at the wall looking out over the scene.

I savor the mildness in the air and the easy breezes which send a cascade of autumn leaves all around me, and I am able to catch a few as they descend in mid-air.  These are the ones I will press into my writer’s journal and preserve them between the pages as I have many times before. 

 

Occasionally, as I peruse one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office, looking for a passage to quote or when reviewing the pages from one of my journals, I will encounter a leaf that was placed there years ago, and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing that it was collected from some late autumn day, sitting outside somewhere, fully intending to rediscover it at some later date.

The coffee is starting to cool off now, as I approach the bottom of the cup, and it’s time to refresh it, and review what I have written today.  The words are only pointing toward a thought, a sensation, or a feeling; they reach out in an attempt to capture a moment in time, and to make it possible for the reader to share in that moment.  

For me, it is a delight and a privilege to have this moment of life, on a warm and luminously beautiful autumn afternoon.  One day, on some bitter cold winter morning, as I prepare my coffee in the kitchen, I will bring up this entry on my laptop, and relish the memory of every delightful second, inhaling the fresh air, the sensation of warmth from the sun on my skin, and the periodic moments of silence that inhabit my world as I contemplate the exquisite pleasure I once enjoyed on one fall afternoon, not so long ago.

Epilog:

This morning before I posted this entry, I walked out into the brilliant sunlight out in the backyard; I was astonished to see that overnight nearly every leaf left on the trees just yesterday appeared now to be on the ground.  The trees out back are now almost completely leafless, with a few stragglers still clinging to the nearly bare branches. 

It began to sink in that winter is well on its way now, with cooler temperatures and shorter days, and reluctantly grabbed the rake out of the shed to clear the avalanche of leaves off the deck.  As I began to work, I enjoyed a brief moment of Zen, looking down at the various and multi-colored remnants of the season now ending, embracing with gratitude, the memory of the numerous pleasures experienced during the autumn this year, while still hoping for a gentle or less harsh winter season to come.

 

Hello October!

 

                                             When we finally arrive in October,

                                             Our feelings are usually mixed;

                                             We love all your glorious colors;

                                             Our eyes, on your leaves, are transfixed.

 

 

                                              We know that in spite of such splendor,

                                              The winter will soon come again;

                                              It creeps up and sneaks up upon us,

                                              We can’t know with certainty when.

 

 

                                              But nothing is taken for granted,

                                               We cherish the October skies;

                                               We enjoy the true bounty of autumn,

                                               We hope, with the years, to grow wise.

 

(c) Southampton City Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

                                                 For love doesn’t fade through the seasons,

                                                 And joy we can find all year long;

                                                 Our children continue to need us;

                                                 Our friendships throughout can stay strong.

 

 

                                                  We greet you with joy unencumbered,,

                                                  It’s truly the way we should live;

                                                  We brace for the scenes of bare branches,

                                                  And treasure each blessing you give.

 

 

                                                  November will shortly be knocking,

                                                  We’ll soon have to open that door;

                                                  But for now we rejoice in our fortune;

                                                  We welcome the chance to do more.

 

 

                                                Be still now and hear your own heart beat,

                                                Don’t fret over leaves that must fall;

                                                October can bolster contentment;

                                                Embrace it right now with your all.

 

 

 

 

When A Tree Falls

 

To hear me recite the poem click on the video link below:

 

When A Tree Falls Video

 

When A Tree Falls—An Unexpected Reprieve

 

https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=DE7BF189930200B0&id=DE7BF189930200B0%214659&parId=DE7BF189930200B0%21206&o=OneUp

 

 

Already a bit on edge anticipating the arrival of the tree removal people, I decided to sit outside after a quick breakfast and drink my coffee on the deck out back. I normally find it soothing in the summer to look out at the natural greenery which surrounds the yard, while I sip my morning cup of java, listen to the birdsongs, and watch the squirrels hunting for something to eat.

 

 

This particular morning, the usual calming effect I’ve typically enjoyed wasn’t working its normal magic.  Even though the coffee was a little stronger than I customarily make it, it almost seemed like the morning tradition was having the opposite effect today. Visually, everything looked the same.  The sun was finding its usual paths between the branches to make a patchwork of light and shadow on the ground beneath the trees.  I observed the mostly blue sky dotted with the occasional puffy white cloud. The cats milled about oblivious to everything except for the need to pursue their periodic cleaning routines.  And yet, nothing seemed to be quite as expected.

 

 

Midmorning temperatures were already in the upper 80 degrees F. In the shade, the air temperature was only marginally cooler than in the direct sunlight. I couldn’t help but suppose that my perceptions were being colored by my anxiety and uncertainty about the impending tree removal.  

The usual hustle and bustle of the neighborhood was minimal as I sat contemplating the events of the day, but after an hour or so as the noon hour approached, I suddenly became aware of a variety of sounds that I hadn’t noticed before.  The traffic on the street seemed unusually busy and there were a number of buzzing sounds from people cutting their grass along the street. A variety of dogs were barking in the distance, almost as though they were having a long distance conversation with each other. The birdsongs seemed to have stopped altogether, and even the cats decided the best strategy at this point was to simply lie down and take a nap.

When I was informed that the tree company had to cancel for the day, it almost felt like a reprieve.  Perhaps, the universe wasn’t quite ready for the tree to come down.  I know I wasn’t really ready, but I was aware that it was going to come down one way or another, and perhaps the universe realized that I was the one who needed some more time to prepare myself.

Whatever the reason, I was relieved, if only temporarily.

The Day Unravels

The actual morning of the removal, a little over a month later, temperatures had slowly begun their descent into the upper 70’s F during the day, but were decidedly cooler in the morning. When I opened the door to go out and pick up the newspaper, I was wearing a sweater for the first time since the spring.  I stared momentarily out the window through the storm door at the tree, but in a way that I never imagined I would do.  I took a few more photos, even though I had taken more on the morning of the reprieve, and several in between that day and this morning. This morning, everything felt different.

I shuffled out to the kitchen and got the coffee started as usual, but there was a palpable sense of an impending alteration of my reality.  I spent a few minutes outside just walking around the house, almost expecting to see some gaping hole in the ground with a glowing meteorite still smoking at the bottom of the crater.

This morning, it was a fairly cool—64 degrees F, and as I waited for the coffee to get done, I sat on the patio out back, looking briefly at the headlines in the paper, gathering my thoughts, and steeling myself for what was to come. I nervously typed out a few sentences on my laptop, hoping that I might somehow find the right words to calm myself.

After a few minutes, the coffee was ready, and as I poured the first cup of the day, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. My normal routine became a more nuanced ritual than usual.  Everything felt different.  While I was stirring the cream into the cup, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should go out front and sit with my silent friend. She’s comforted me plenty of times over the years; perhaps she would be glad to have some company on her final morning as a tree.

 

I moved the chair and side table out to the front yard, and resumed typing out my thoughts a few feet away from the grand lady.  The sun was just peeking up over the roof of the house across the street, and I stopped for a moment to take it all in, and snapped a few quick photos.  I honestly can’t say what I thought I would capture in that scene that I hadn’t already preserved in the dozens of others images I made before this morning, but it definitely felt like it was important to record the final moments before demolition.

 

 

The street was quiet for the most part.  I don’t recall ever actually sitting out in front of the house in the morning like this, although I often walked around the yard for one reason or another.  Sometimes, when the kids were small we would have some event to deal with and there would be some sort of activity out in the front of the house, and most mornings in recent years, I usually walk out to pick up the newspaper at least.  Several of the neighbors were stirring and setting out on their way to work or whatever else they had planned for the day. 

 

There were a few young folks walking to the local middle and high schools which are right down the street from us. A couple of school buses drove by, but other than that, it was fairly calm.  I started to silently consider what was about to happen, and sat staring at the tree for a solid minute or two.  The idea that it wouldn’t be there by the end of the day didn’t seem real at all, and it occurred to me that knowing what was about to happen was almost like contemplating my own eventual demise—something that I never could quite imagine or ever wanted to consider. 

 

A Long History of Being

We have so little genuine knowledge about what a tree might be feeling or perceiving or be aware of in some way, and this particular silent friend only has a few years on me age-wise.  My parents were still dating when they planted the tree in 1947 when the house was built, and I didn’t come along for another six years.  Even though I am a bit younger than the tree, there is a real connection that has developed over the last thirty years that makes it feel like we are very much equal in age, although aging for a tree is likely a much different proposition than it is for humans.

I supposed I would have an opportunity to see the rings on the stump of the tree at some point and hoped to be able to determine the precise age in some way.  My interest in every aspect of the process and being able to participate in it and witness it every step of the way had already been keen, and it felt like the right thing to do in view of our long association. 

 

A September Mourning

Once the tree company crew arrived, I immediately felt a strange sort of calm overtake me.  I greeted the foreman and asked about the process they would use to remove the tree. I had expected them to bring one of those “bucket trucks,” to cut the uppermost branches without endangering the electrical wires or any of the surrounding obstacles.  He reassured me that they would simply climb up the tree with their safety equipment and conduct the “surgery” without a problem. 

I moved my patio chair a safe distance away, and watched the expert crew leader climb high up into the branches, tie off his safety harness to one of the larger limbs and begin to work.  I had already decided to record the process with my phone camera, but found myself often simply observing and carefully moving my vantage point to get the best angle of view.  It was mesmerizing to watch in a very odd way, mixing in all my emotions and anxieties, while still finding the experience strangely compelling to witness.

As the work progressed, there were several moments when large sections of the tree’s limbs would come crashing to the ground with a loud “thud,” sometimes landing on the street, sometimes landing in the yard. There were several opportunities in between the precision strokes of carnage to view the inner surfaces of the tree’s appendages, which revealed an astonishing array of colors and conditions.

One of the larger side limbs had been under assault by a colony of black ants, which had hollowed out the central core of a small section of it, apparently begun only a short time ago judging by the minimal progress made. Several of the larger sections of the trunk were cut out in pieces and provided an astonishing view of the layers of growth, with a variety of different colors and widths.

 

As the work was nearing completion, the inevitable sensation of melancholy began to slowly creep in to my mindset, and although I was resigned to the outcome all along, watching as they shredded the final sections of the main trunk, now lying on the sidewalk like slices of cake on a platter, the full impact of the loss was becoming apparent. I felt a bit deflated as the crew began to clean up the area, and walked up to the remaining layer of the stump, feeling empty as the air that now filled the space where the tree stood.

I thanked the crew for doing such an expert job without creating any safety concerns, and complimented the crew leader for his obvious skill in navigating through the tangle of limbs and branches to execute his task. The professionalism and quality of their work on this assignment, although it was an unhappy one from my point of view, was admirable and very impressive nonetheless.

 

When A Tree Falls

 

I sat for some time afterwards, just staring at the gaping hole in the once familiar landscape out in front of the home I have lived in for thirty years, and in spite of my resignation regarding the removal, I couldn’t help but feel that what was now missing from the scene was simply a tangible structure of nature’s handiwork.

 

 

What once had been contained within a physical structure, had now been transformed into a memory, and even though the actual wood that composed that structure was mostly sawdust and shredded bits of a once grand living tree, what was most compelling and satisfying about my relationship with it was not lost at all. I carried every bit of my attachment and affection for my silent friend with me as I headed back to the house, and will keep it with me always.

 

 

As I requested, the crew leader made sure that I had a collection of logs from some of the smaller branches to stack out in the backyard to dry out and age a bit, so that I can eventually honor the memory of our connection by burning the logs in the woodstove, to warm the house in the bitter cold days of winter, or to illuminate the evening sky on some future evening on the patio.

 

When a tree falls, nature compensates in a number of ways by providing shelter for the tiny creatures of the forest floor, or eventually enriching the soil when it breaks down over many years, back into the land from which it came. My hope is that the enrichment I have received, by sharing our connection over the years of life for the tree, will continue to inform my own life, and endure in the years to come.

Contradiction and Truth

                                         Each moment, as we nearer drew to each,

                                        A stern respect withheld us farther yet,

                                        So that we seemed beyond each other’s reach,

                                        And less acquainted than when we first met.

 

                                        We two were one while we did sympathize,

                                        So could we not the simplest bargain drive;

                                        And what avails it now that we are wise,

                                        If absence doth this doubleness contrive?

 

                                       –excerpt from the poem, “Sympathy,” by Henry Thoreau, 1840

 

Having recently reviewed the 2014 film, “Ask Me Anything,” written and directed by Allison Burnett, which is based on his novel, “Undiscovered Gyrl,” I was struck by a scene in the film where the female lead in the film is presented with a list of “Ten Bitter Truths,” supposedly in response to her request for “lessons about adulthood.”

What struck me most was how cynically slanted the list was and, as a result, I felt compelled to respond with my own less cynical commentary.  The list appears below and the numbering of my comments mirror the numbers in the list.

                                                                                              Guernica by Picasso

Ten Bitter Truths

1.    Complete honesty is a complete lie.

2.    Marriage is sacred only to those who have never been married.

3.    Money is more integral to happiness than romantic love.

4.    Every human being is a contradiction; some hide it better than others.

5.    Never underestimate the tendency of human beings to act contrary to their own best interests.

6.    Were it not for the fear of being caught, most of us would behave like savages.

7.    All sex has consequences, most of them dire.

8.    The older you get the faster time flies until months pass like days.

9.    There’s no such thing as living happily ever after.

10.  Everything gets worse.

 

Scientist leaving the world. Engraving c.1520. 

1.    It isn’t so much that complete honesty is unachievable or that we are somehow incapable of it, but rather that complete honesty isn’t always the most advantageous approach to every situation. There’s no reliably clear advantage to being brutally honest at all times, and even when we might be uncertain, to varying degrees, about what the complete truth of a certain circumstance might be, expressing that uncertainty under some conditions may work against us. The framing of our responses, in a way that mitigates the consequences of those circumstances, it could be argued, can ultimately produce a more desirable outcome, depending on the particulars.  Humans are adaptable by nature, and if we can enhance our ability to adapt, and also improve our ability to survive and thrive simultaneously through sharing a proportionate degree of honesty, in specific instances, the benefits of doing so can outweigh the rigid structural framework of what might be described as “complete honesty.” This is not to suggest that such mitigation is appropriate in EVERY circumstance, but rather, that mindless conformity to any absolute principle of unmitigated honesty or to its opposite, at all times, could sabotage our human abilities for adaptation and mitigation, which might be essential to our long term survivability.      

 

2.    The nature of human interactions with regard to the sacred or the divine aspects of our humanity are not dependent upon any specific institution, and what we describe as “sacred,” refers to elements that have no universal criteria to define them or by which we could, in every case, fairly judge them to be so described. Even in a common social relationship or in a specific religious context, the “sacred” can exist within it, regardless of the milieu in which it occurs. Marriage can either be sacred or not, and relationships which exist outside of institutional marriage can embody the “sacred,” just as reliably as those within it. The idea that only people who are not married think of marriage as sacred underestimates everyone.        

3.    Determining what constitutes happiness is a completely subjective judgment, and while financial stability can be an important component of our well-being generally, to say that it is more integral to happiness than romantic love is to denigrate the value of both money and romantic love.  “What does it profit a man to gain the entire world, if he suffers the loss of his soul?”  How could any amount of money compensate for a bitter loneliness or an absence of any meaningful interaction with our fellow humans? How often have we heard about couples who have very little in the material sense who are otherwise living happy and balanced lives? Romance is not a cure-all certainly, and it ebbs and flows in every loving relationship, but suggesting that money is MORE integral than romantic love to happiness is just plain wrong.           

4.    Contradiction in a person or in an argument implies some sort of logical incongruity or denial of what otherwise represents an expectation or understanding of a person’s character or the premise of an argument. The entire universe is a conglomeration of opposites—hot and cold; north and south; east and west; male and female; fast and slow; young and old. To suppose that we might be able to escape our contradictions in the way we feel, the way we think, and in many of the ways we live our lives, would be to deny our very nature as a part of the entire universe. Each of us must decide which of the tendencies toward the opposites we will assume as we navigate through our lives, and rarely does anyone follow a single inclination in any of the innumerable ways in which we might engage life through the years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are a contradiction at all times and that some people are just good at hiding it.  To be human is to change, and to adapt, and to innovate, and to grow, and to learn. Some of us accomplish these tasks with greater ease and ability than others, but changing is less a contradiction than it is a part of our nature to adapt and grow—to progress.           

5.    This is just a variation of the contradiction argument. What may appear to others as an action that is against our own best interest might actually serve us better in the long term. We are constantly changing and adapting and learning from our mistakes, and as we navigate through the trials and tribulations we encounter, we sometimes fail to choose our actions as wisely as we could. Deciding which actions are in our own best interest and which are not requires a learning curve usually, but to assume that we should expect it as a matter of course ignores the obvious benefits of failure which can serve as a guidepost to making better decisions in the future.       

6.    This item is one of the most cynical of all these ideas.  Anyone with even a minimal amount of life experience can recognize the value of civilized behavior, and if we are minimally observant—just reasonably astute—we can figure out that acting like a savage is a zero-sum game. In the earliest history of humankind, life was indeed savage, brutal, and short. Tribal warfare was common and weaker groups were routinely conquered by the stronger ones. Civilization took a really long time to get past the most savage stage of our development through the centuries.  Suggesting that we are now still all just savages beneath the surface, and only restrained by the consequences of savagery is to ignore the historical record of humanity’s progress into the modern world.  Of course, there are individuals and groups that can act in ways that are reminiscent of our savage roots, and we haven’t completely conquered our instinctive drives in every corner of the world, but empathy and altruistic instincts also are strong within us now, having evolved beyond the early history of our species, and rational, intelligent, and generous humans exist on a much greater scale now than ever before in our history, and to suggest otherwise is cynical in the extreme.     

 

                                                                Balance of Energy is a painting by Deidre Harris    

 

7.    The consequences of engaging in sexual activities can fall within a whole spectrum of results, depending on the individuals and circumstances in which they take place. Most of them are not dire, thankfully, but engaging in them recklessly or irresponsibly can have serious consequences, and if we simply use reasonable caution these days to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, the consequences can be far less dire than suggested by this idea. Most of the dire circumstances that result these days aren’t because of simply engaging in sexual activity, but by doing so without regard for routine precautions, or when inappropriate or unwelcomed by the other person.  To say that most consequences are dire is simply not true.  

 

 

8.    While the years definitely seem to pass more rapidly as we age, even as we approach the later years of our lives, it takes exactly the same amount of time for a year, a month, and a day to pass. When we are five years old, one year represents a fifth of our lives.  When we are 70, a year is 1/70th of our lives. The perspective of years is an obvious factor in how we view time, but even as an older person, months don’t seem like days and the exaggeration isn’t really helpful.  Each and every day is an opportunity to engage with life and to experience a limitless variety of possibilities to fill up the days, weeks, months, and years. If we proceed mindlessly through the hours and days of our lives without a deliberate choice of some sort or without some degree of urgency regarding a purposeful action to serve those choices, time will catch up with us eventually.  Learning is a life-long activity and whatever our circumstances, with personal effort, and maybe some help from our fellow travelers, we can find a way to make use of our time that can slow things down a bit.      

 

 

9.    While the concept of living “happily ever after” is usually introduced at a very early age in children’s stories and fairy tales, it isn’t meant to suggest that living “happily” means without any challenges or difficulties for the rest of our lives. We can live a life that we can consider “happy” generally, even though it may contain “bumps in the road.” Children need time to accumulate life experience in order to grasp the broader implications of how one might be able to live as life progresses, but they will usually bounce back in spite of encountering innumerable challenges at a young age. Even in the face of some personal tragedy which might occur, they often demonstrate a resilience that can surprise most adults. A happy life isn’t one free of difficulty.  Inevitably, it is one that has some capacity for overcoming adversity when it occurs; one that appreciates the joys when they arrive; and one that strives to make something worthwhile out of the time they are given.   

 

10.  This one is the most cynical of all.  Lots of things can get worse given the right conditions, but there are plenty of things that can get better given the same chance.  We can either actively contribute to our own betterment or allow our actions or inaction to result in our own detriment at any given time.  Of course, there are times when detrimental events occur that are beyond our control, and we don’t always have the luxury of choosing the results when life occasionally “happens,” but we usually have a choice as to how we respond to what happens, or at least how we think about what happens.  Not everything gets worse.   

 

“Eternity may not the chance repeat,

But I must tread my single way alone,

In sad remembrance that we once did meet,

And know that bliss irrevocably gone.”

–excerpt from poem, “Sympathy,” by Henry Thoreau

 

Adulthood does have its challenges, and our lives and ways of being are not without a degree of contradiction, trials, and imbalance, but even as we reflect on any “sad remembrance,” each of us must recognize that for every “bliss irrevocably gone,” there is inevitably a subsequent opportunity for new experience—another opportunity to say, “We two were one while we did sympathize.”

A Tree of Life Story

“Trees are poems that the Earth writes upon the sky.”

–Kahlil Gibran

“The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the Earth.”

–Frank Lloyd Wright

 

                                         
                                                                           Winter time shows the structure of the tree.

I recently wrote a blog post about the trees in the yard where I have lived for the past thirty years, and shared another about the installation of solar panels on the roof of that same house:

 

Tree History

 

Solar Story

 

A few days ago, I received the news that the professional tree removal team would be arriving on Monday to take the tree down. Up to this point, even though the tree had been problematical for others, and in spite of the fact that it blocked the sun’s rays from the front portion of the roof, I wrestled with the idea of having to remove it, all the while almost hoping that it wouldn’t happen. When the message arrived with an actual removal date, my heart sank a little, despite knowing about the inevitable approach of this event for some time now.

 

                      
                                                                                   “Upon whose bosom snow has lain:”

I’ve spent the past few days mentally and psychologically preparing myself for the removal of this “silent friend,” by looking through years of photos and memories to see just how many I could locate, and was pleased to find a fair number of both. It has been reasonably cathartic to review these images and to appreciate how it has actually been necessary and beneficial in the main to trim the trees and remove dead branches ever since I first arrived at this location.

 

                                                    
                               “A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray.”

As the day wore on, I was becoming clear that the impending destruction was such a significant change, and so important to my well-being, that a brief ceremony and the need to make another video were essential.

 

                                                  
    “A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair.”                  Photo by Graham Sorenson

If you would like to see the video and hear me recite the poem, “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer, click on the link below:

 

Tree Video

 

Later this week, after I have some time to recover and consider more at length the consequences of this development, I will attempt to reconcile my feelings and speak fondly of my “silent friend,” in the next post–

                                                                       When A Tree Falls…

Mixing Solar Energy with Summer Melancholy

 

There was a curious mixture this past week of 21st century technology and the pleasure one can only experience in a natural setting, surrounded by nature’s greenery. While I sat out in the backyard, sipping on my morning coffee, a half-dozen men set siege to the roof and commandeered our electric service in the kitchen pantry, in the process of installing an array of solar panels on the front of the house.

 


It’s been a curious mixture in the sense that I often spend time amongst the summer greenery in the backyard when the weather is agreeable, but most often it is a solitary and almost meditative experience of quiet contemplation, with an occasional interruption of birdsong or the rustling of the trees all around me, which is predictably pleasing in its own way.

 


This particular morning introduced an assortment of unfamiliar interruptions and various other forms of strangeness as a professional crew of electricians and installers intermittently initiated a barrage of grinding, drilling, and hammering sounds as they progressed through the installation process.

 


Most of us tend to gain an appreciation of our decisions and choices in retrospect generally, as the consequences become more apparent, but for several mornings over the past week, I watched as the drama unfolded in front of me, and it was a much more immediate visceral response that captured my attention—right as I sat there observing the process—when I realized I was no longer only an investigator or an observer of the technological revolution, but truly a participant in it, taking the deliberate step to install the state-of-the-art equipment necessary for harnessing the power of solar energy.

 

 

Ninety-three million miles away, the sun is radiating its light energy directly toward the Earth, and after some eight minutes of travel at the speed of light, that energy will now be captured by an array of solar panels on the roof, generating electric power through an astonishingly simple process, converting sunlight into electricity by “exciting electrons in silicon cells using the photons of light from the sun.”

 

 

I checked out the science of solar cells on miro.medium.com and found this fascinating explanation:

 

“Solar panels, also known as modules, contain photovoltaic cells made from silicon that transform incoming sunlight into electricity rather than heat.


(“Photovoltaic” means electricity from light—photo=light, voltaic=electricity.”)


As the photons of sunlight beat down upon these cells, they knock the electrons off the silicon. The negatively-charged free electrons are preferentially attracted to one side of the silicon cell, which creates an electric voltage that can be collected and channeled.  This current is gathered by wiring the individual solar panels together in a series to form a solar photovoltaic array.”

https://jjhiii24.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/c9849-1ywtau6iog8c2cqs-h_ah1a.gif

 

 

The introduction of a very robust and noisy process of implementing 21st century solar science into my normally sedate and quiet morning routine brought out the philosopher in me, as I considered just how interconnected we all are by virtue of our common experiences of sunlight in one sense, but also unique in our perceptions of new experience, which can unfold before us in unexpected ways, while still containing common elements, and inform our thoughts and help us to assimilate that which is uncommon.

 

In a bittersweet almost melancholy moment, I took notice that the view from the ground on this day still included an over-the-rooftop view of the uppermost branches of the tree out in front of the house, which for some reason seemed to me to appear much taller than they did last summer, and it wasn’t lost on me that this would be one of the last opportunities to enjoy such a view, since the tree is slated for removal shortly. While I have been aware of the inevitability of all of these changes for some time now, actually having witnessed the predicted events as they unfolded prompted me to appreciate the gravity of the decision to go forward with them in real-time.

 

While contemplating these changes I was inspired to respond poetically to the “melancholy moment,” and decided to include it with this post. You can listen to my recital of the poem at this link:



 

 

A Moment of Repose

 

After months of hibernating, like many of us, when the travel restrictions were eased, I took the opportunity to visit a nearby East Coast location called Moore’s Beach, which is a landmark on the Delaware Bay, currently being restored after enduring damage from Hurricane Sandy. It also happens to be a protected area since it plays host to a number of migratory birds. Since it was during the time frame when the birds were present, we weren’t able to walk as far as we normally do, but it still provided a satisfying walk in the spring air, and an opportunity to capture some images of the natural beauty available along the coastline.

 

 

According to the official website, Moore’s Beach has an important role in supporting a variety of bird species during their annual migration:

“A migratory stopover for arctic nesting shorebirds must provide each bird the energy necessary to get to the next stopover or to the ultimate destination, the wintering or breeding area. Delaware Bay stands out among these shorebird refueling stops because it delivers fuel in the form of horseshoe crab eggs giving birds options. Our telemetry has shown that Red knots, the species we best understand, may leave Delaware Bay and go directly to their Arctic breeding areas or stopover on Hudson Bay.’

http://www.restorenjbayshore.org/moores-beach.html

 

 

Walking along the weathered roadway leading up to the beach was a welcome change from our typical hike through our limited range of neighborhood streets, and when we arrived at the shoreline, we were met by several signs explaining the reason for the limited access. This image captured hundreds of small birds and several other varieties flying by in formation—a formidable sight!

 

 

Standing on the edge of the beach, inhaling the cool spring air and enjoying the benefits of a gentle offshore breeze, I closed my eyes and focused momentarily on my breath, feeling like an essential part of the landscape, and allowing the moment to refresh my spirit, grateful to have even a few moments of communing with nature.

 

 

With hope in our hearts, and with gratitude for the opportunity to experience our natural world, we can glean a degree of optimism as we move forward toward the future.