Staring into the Abyss

Another hot humid day. Last evening thunderstorms came close but did not bring rain. We had brief rains a couple of days last week, but again not enough to break the drought. This summer storms approach in a line, then break apart, and pass either side of us.

The morning birdsong is much reduced so that even the dawn chorus is but a muted version of its earlier self, and that self is greatly reduced from just thirty years ago.

What rain and fog we have received has brought out the mushrooms, which are the fruiting bodies of mycelia, the large underground structures of fungi. Mycelia may stretch for vast distances, and help trees communicate with one another through complex systems of interconnected plants, fungi, and bacteria. Like most of the living world, things in the forest, or on the lawn, are more complex than they seem.

We are in a historical moment pitting visions of complexity against a desire to ignore or reject the sometimes overwhelming richness of things. Complexity, and diversity for that matter, are inconvenient and messy, resisting our human urge to just figure it out and get on with it. Just getting on with it lies, of course, at the very heart of much contemporary agriculture and forestry, and beyond that, the entire colonial project.

I often think we would prefer to have the world organized nicely, with remarkably little out of place. I once knew a retired Canadian army officer who each day raised his Canadian flag, saluted it, then mowed the small lawn are in front of his town house. He would then take a pair of scissors and, on hands and knees, carefully trim any offending bits of grass that dared stand taller than their neighbors.

Our dreams of order inevitably collide with the real workings of the world. Nature is interwoven, mutually dependent, ritualized chaos that yields a mysterious deep order. Our brains mirror this, making metaphors of computation haplessly inadequate.

Still, our minds reach for order and system in their endless search for meaning. Metaphors provide very rough road maps for our lives, offering approximations that spin narratives and encourage us to grasp moments of shared organization and experience, if only we allow ourselves to expand our definitions of kinship.

Yet, for some, complexity and diversity seem to open chasms of awe and terror, from which they shy away, or run screaming. Surly may of us have shared these moments when we realize our exceedingly small place in the enormity of the cosmos. I often wonder what allows some to return to the brink, contemplate the vastness, and discover kinship and beauty.

I wonder, what has allowed you to tarry there, at the brink of that vastness?

6 thoughts on “Staring into the Abyss

  1. I have always loved thinking “big picture” thoughts, weaving divergent information into a whole. I have found, however, that when my well-being is threatened (emotionally, physically, spiritually) that I search for order. I work to narrow my world to what I know and can trust to be there for me and to protect me. Today I got great pleasure from watching the sparrows splash in the bird bath and fly under the sprinkler – all from the safety of my three season room. My life is bigger than this, but not much. What is your experience, Michael, when you are threatened by forces you have no control over?

    • Pat, I so appreciate you!
      Anyway, in answer to your question: it depends. If my trauma history is activated I tend to freeze. If not, I get engaged and problem solve. That said, my preferred solution is to be in nature. Sadly, I missed the four adults and ten turkey chicks parading quickly through the yard yesterday…… I can watch the birds and butterflies in the trees from my desk here in the studio.

  2. I was just watching a pair of bats fly around our back yard. I haven’t seen any for several years so it is very exciting. Maybe they are coming back from their own pandemic which can give us hope.

    • Watching a storm approach. Hoping it brings rain as we are deeply in need of it. Storms keep just missing us while bringing rain to neighboring communities. Fun to be here in the studio and watch the weather come in.

  3. Once, when I was in New York City visiting my daughter, we sat at an outside cafe and watched all the people go by: Black, white, brown, Asian, short, tall, slender, plump. What a wonderful diversity, and I reveled in it. Don’t know why some people feel so threatened. Can’t explain it.

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