PLAIN BROWN PAPER©
morning sun behind the tree
a storm torn web
the shallow breeze
Late summer and just a hint of breeze, out peeing on the compost. That kid by the creek, five years old and suddenly another dimension: right here, without words, everywhere all at once. Could that kid say what an adult cannot?
Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew the phone call was coming, not far off. Close as an iPhone, except he'd never owned one. Maybe it would arrive like the memory of jasmine. Or it might be in a diary, or on Facebook.
Ha! But just suppose:
Somewhere you exist, Dear Reader. Maybe you don't realize it just yet, but that subtle undertow, that freakish need to pretend it's not there --
O, we're off to see the Lizard
The wonderful Lizard of ooze!
Little tugs, like a puppy grabbing your pant leg. Stuff that got ignored before you even knew.
But you knew. Just that there were no words, no thought big enough. So it was hidden in plain sight, camouflaged by normal behavior. Like the Tooth Fairy, who stays invisible because we don't believe hard enough. Cathedrals were built this way.
Cities are built this way, but for you the urge to glory had to be guessed after long observation.
Instead he decided to watch the evening news. Peanuts and beer. One never knows, he thought. He'd been watching the news online when the financiers and their minions got a taste of Iraq, 9/11. Been watching when suddenly the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion filled the screen, no possibility of censorship. And then last night came an announcement of the God particle, Higgs boson.
Better than The Twilight Zone.
Would the Higgs get bossy? Thou shalt not shut off the accelerator! That would be rich, or at least it would cost at lot of energy that certainly wasn't going to come from solar panels. Perhaps it would thunder: Armageddon is mine, prideful humans!
Right after that he actually found a CMSN report on the current state of Armageddon. Lots of interest now, fired up by entrepreneurs who've found a live nerve sticking up out of the ooze. T-shirts, dried food, underground condominiums in secret locations, survivalist groups in need of rifles, water purification kits, and ammunition. The Mayan calendar predicts it. And the history of sunspot activity is a nigglesome thing. There are asteroids and people with plans to deflect them before they outdo the Higgs. The recent confirmation of plate tectonics shakes our confidence. Medical advances have led to super bugs that threaten a plague spreading with the rapidity of modern transport systems. And of course there's the stuff our leaders would rather we forget such as climate change and nuclear World War III. Is the Pope listening? Does it matter?
You knew, all right. Armageddon is a great seller, profitable to the very last drop, corporate warriors slashing costs everywhere as space ship earth spirals into oblivion.
Or at least so you suspected as you wielded your laptop in the final days. But what if you really knew, for sure, that it was bullshit? How would you know? Because it hasn't happened yet?
Consider the moral and ethical implications of going up against the universe, not to mention the belief systems of mere mortals.
Damn, he thought.
Well, look at what happened after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. William James, esteemed Harvard psychologist, was visiting Stanford University at the time. He described in his paper, "On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake," how the people at Stanford reacted. "Everybody was excited, but the excitement at first, at any rate, seemed to be almost joyous. Here at last was a real earthquake after so many years of harmless waggle!"
He was able to travel to San Francisco where the damage was much greater, including a huge fire storm. A photographic image was described by Simon Winchester in his book, "A Crack in the Edge of the World":
"A pair of young women, pretty, behatted, and beaming, pose to have their portrait taken while the sky behind them is a pall of rising smoke. . . . Their city was being destroyed, yet the catastrophe – at least for that brief moment – was for them little more than background."
He also included photographer Arnold Genthe's description of a scene recorded on the first morning of the first day of the fire, showing ". . . results of the earthquake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. On the right is a house, the front of which had collapsed onto the street. The occupants are sitting on chairs calmly watching the approach of the fire. Groups of people are standing in the street, motionless, gazing at the clouds of smoke. It is hard to believe that such a scene actually occurred in the way the photograph represents it. Several people upon seeing it have exclaimed, 'Oh, is that a still from a Cecil DeMille picture?'"
So it might not be all that bad. (Shameless twinge of it might be good? Were these transferences of a personal Armageddon, intuition of a transformation?)
A little back yard time, he thought, which was where he went to do nothing. Where thoughts come and go like the birds. And of course no-thought. The beauty of this being there is nothing to save. And no difference between that out by the compost and out by the creek. Living in the tree by the compost -- small, with black wings, a grey body, and a little peak of black feathers on its head like a teenager. It's chirp, small and cheerful. He wished it could talk.
No problem: "Hey, I can fly! So I'll sit here and watch while you talk to me, as though I understood you. Which I do."
And no need to prolong that state of mind. In fact it was fun to imagine ridiculous ideas, such as a new bureau for the US Department of Homeland Security – viz., The Office of Earthquake Prevention.
Don't scoff! It makes as much sense as color coded terror threats. Dear Reader, my plan would get the national attention it deserves. Earthquakes happen because subduction zones are sticky. Tension builds up along the fault lines ]they're stuck[ until BAM! it all gives way.
So you're smart enough to have guessed the plan. Maybe you're normal.
Sightseeing at an earthquake firestorm is somewhat to the left of normal Our Harvard eminence mused, in retrospect: "The terms 'awful,' 'dreadful' fell often enough from people's lips, but always with a sort of abstract meaning, and with a face that seemed to admire the vastness of the catastrophe as much as it bewailed its cuttingness."
Fast forward to the present. Slow motion now, freeze frame, day by day, let's admire it.
The weather is definitely getting catastrophic: floods, fires, heat waves, droughts, electrical storms. World financial systems are collapsing. An automated greed machine scours the earth, leaving waste and destruction in its path, a huge garbage patch in the middle of the ocean, coral reefs dying, ice caps melting, sea levels rising. And yes, violent earthquakes are happening.
Admirable, indeed. Magnificent! Inevitable, given what most people ignore.
Dear Reader, for those who choose not to ignore the obvious, none of this stuff exists in a vacuum. The 1906 earthquake was an interaction of tectonic plates that comprise the unmolten surface of our earth, which predates the existence of humans. The catastrophic San Francisco fire would not have been possible at a point in history where we had just discovered fire and had not built a city. The financial crisis would not be possible until we had invented money, then credit, then derivatives. The automated rape of the earth, until we invented computers. Likewise, earth is not the only planet in the universe now, which we know because of space telescopes. Let these few inescapable facts suffice to establish how it's all interconnected.
If you don't like where this is going, the cable car is back in service. You can hop off and get back to your desk in the financial district. See you at the next earthquake.
For those of you even slightly to the left, especially if just slightly, the rest of this is for you.
"But wait," said the little bird. "What about the bread crusts on the compost?"
"I won't forget you," he said. "Remember the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland?"
"I'm a bird, and this is hardly Wonderland!"
"Don't try to upstage me. The caterpillar says to Alice, 'and WHO are you?' and she warns him that someday he will have to go through some drastic changes on the way to becoming a butterfly. We're like that, but in humans the change isn't so obvious, usually happens around age thirty-five, or sometimes much earlier."
"Some of us have been through it."
"I'll be back when there's some more crusts out here."
He shrugged. That's how it usually is. Birds don't want to talk about it, which just shows how evolution works. We all need to eat. Civilized humans have gotten beyond that, pecking left behind, and have developed bigger brains with extra capacity for music, art, and musing. And it doesn't end there. For some of us, civilized arts are the flower of human achievement. But we all need to eat, and that's where it often ends; leave well enough alone.
For some, none of this is relevant. The chrysalis is translucent and gives way at an early age, disappearing for a moment. There is no struggle. And an indescribable, obvious, ordinary and truly wonderful dimension need not be questioned. It will pass silently into everyday life, being taken for granted as not uncommon to anyone, since so obvious.
For some it's all an encumbrance, a chrysalis that hardens and entombs those who don't get beyond asking WHO? In fact most people don't get even that far. Religions are part of the encumbrance, rolling out ready made answers to forestall any real inquiry. But a few do break through, undergoing a personal Armageddon.
Those who reach it, perhaps laughing, can't say where it is, or what, or how, which is part of the joy,. There is a babble of descriptions, superlatives stumbling over each other, promises to counterbalance the gloom of Armageddon, all of which if taken as guide posts may lead to disappointment. Anyone who speaks may arouse the envy or enmity of the entombed. This will be trial difficult to understand for those who, early on, discover that what is obvious is not so for everyone.
Which may leave you a little to the left of normal. Not too far, if you're sensible of the danger. But to be sane means you have to be a little crazy, like a fox. You try to be normal, like most people. . . .
Finally the phone rang: "Press nine to win an all expense paid vacation to Haiti."
My, my, my, he thought – laughable! There is no me, or my, whatever. Best send this wrapped in plain brown paper.