August 10, 2013

No metaphor

Witnessed an intense drama today.  Heading up the hill where the trail curves up from the creek into the woods, I stopped at the old bench to catch my breath and have a sip of water.  In a patch of sunlight beyond the other side of the trail, I don't know how many dozens of feet from where I sat, in an open area between the trees a few times my height above the ground, I noticed a large dark butterfly fluttering fast but not going anywhere.  As I looked at it, my eyes gradually focused on the faint strands of the web in which it was caught.  I couldn't quite see the whole thing, but it had to've been a damned big web, because it was a very big butterfly.  Amazing, too, how strong a spider's web is, because that big butterfly was putting up a crazed struggle to break free.  I got up from the bench and walked down the trail a bit to a point where I could see it better.  From that angle, my eye was caught by something a ways above the web-- a little blob that was illuminated bright acid-y, lime-y green by the sun.  Hanging on an anchor-line that I couldn't see was the spider.  After another minute or two, the butterfly suddenly stopped its flapping and hung suspended at the bottom of the web with its wings spread wide. The spider began to crawl down the anchor-line towards the web, which the butterfly must have felt because it began its violent fluttering and pulling again.  This routine of rest, advance, response went on one more time before the spider reached the center of the web.  The spider stopped there, the butterfly stopped as well and hung deathly quiet for a while, then suddenly went crazy again and I watched as the spider turned back and began climbing back up the web, back up the anchor-line, back to the spot where I first noticed it.  Even when the butterfly stopped and hung for the longest minutes yet, the spider just sat, as if it knew it wasn't yet time.  I wondered how many other people would stop to watch something of this sort.  How many would even realize what was going on?  At a glance, all you'd see was a butterfly fluttering.  How many would look long enough to realize it was trapped?  If you didn't focus your eyes just right, you wouldn't even see the web and the spider, just the crazily flapping butterfly and the trees of the woods beyond it.  I looked up at the spider again and began to think of patience, of how wonderful and powerful a thing it is to have, and how simultaneously horrible and frightening it can be if you're the butterfly trapped and panicking to be free.  But perhaps that's anthropomorphizing a bit too much.  Finally, when the butterfly went into convulsive flapping so violent that it caused the spider all the way up on its anchor-line to bounce around in the air, I turned away and headed up the trail.

This is not a metaphor for anything. It's just life.  Just something I saw.


August 4, 2013

What revolves around what?

Sitting on the wall above the Potomac River at the base of the Rumsey Monument in Shepherdstown (where I've ruminated before), watching a pair of black vultures sitting on top of the world (quite literally) preening each other, I thought of something from an episode I recently watched of the BBC series, Sherlock (episode 4, A Scandal in Belgravia, to be precise)-- In his blog of their adventures together, Dr. Watson exposes Holmes' ignorance that the earth revolves around the sun.  Holmes' lack of this knowledge becomes a source of incredulous amusement to those around him, but he aggravatedly demands "What does it matter?"  As he explains to Watson, his brain is like a hard drive and he cannot clutter it with data that is useless to his purposes.  He may have had that information in his hard drive at one point but, if so, he'd long ago deleted it. He has a point.  What, indeed, is the value of such information?  I'm sure many intelligent, educated folks out there would cite all that we've learned about the expanse of space and how we may end up needing to live on another planet some day so we'd better learn all we can about them but, really, for the average person, how does that impact their day to day living?  If a child were born tomorrow and the parents decided to keep him ignorant of the fact of the earth's rotation around the sun, say, home-schooled him and contrived to keep the information from him as far into adulthood as possible, would his life be any less fulfilled, less interesting, less meaningful, or less productive than any of us who are cognizant of this astronomical fact?  Hell, there are tribes of isolated indigenous people who are unaware of the workings of the solar system as we know them.  And yet those people live, love, laugh, create and procreate and function within their own societies just as ably as any of us who are supposedly more advanced.  

I saw a film this afternoon that was a very complex exploration of the very complex subjects of love, relationships, family, and communication.  Our knowledge of the earth's rotation around the sun did not come up at any point in the film and seems to have no bearing on the matters it addressed.  So, what impact does a basic awareness of the workings of the solar system have on a basic awareness of the workings of human nature?  Which of the two is more pertinent to daily life and, thus, more important information to store in our mental hard drives?

Another example--  Last weekend, I stood in a "sky meadow", a huge section of steep hillside in a state park in Virginia that farmers had cleared of forest ages ago for grazing their livestock.  The field is now covered with wildflowers of all kinds and the trail transects growth as tall as my shoulders. First I saw a couple of butterflies-- Huge yellow, black &/or pale blue ones, then little speckly orange ones, then tiny little blue/brown ones.  Next thing I know, I'm looking around at what had to be a couple hundred of them.  I have never seen so many butterflies in one place in my life.  It was so gorgeous I just stood there for the longest time with a big ol' fool grin on my face.  In moments like that, what difference does an awareness that the earth revolves around the sun matter?  The sun is in the sky, we are standing on the earth, the butterflies are fluttering in between, and that's enough.  Isn't it? 

Disclaimer:  I do not state anywhere above that I believe learning about the solar system is unnecessary or irrelevant, so please don't make that assumption.  This was all just random rumination, the sort of stuff that clutters up my own mental hard drive. Worth thinking about, though.  I think.