I paid more attention to the vegetation along the trail this morning. I saw at least twenty plants I hadn’t listed yesterday, although there are a couple I can’t really identify. Some I just ignored yesterday: forget-me-not, dandelion, sorrel, plantain, buttercup, because they are so common and ubiquitous. Today I took note of rhodora, pineapple weed, a stunted little plant of yellow sweet clover, hop clover (I think), groundsel (probably), butter and eggs (toadflax), wild mustard, thistle, St Johnswort, bracken, Deptford pink, Queen Anne’s lace about to open, a little creeping plant with white starlike flowers which I think is a kind of chickweed (not mouse ear chickweed), fleabane, evening primrose, something which might be crown vetch although it doesn’t look quite like the plant in my book, and several more of those dandelion-like species. Fruiting spires are starting to form on the staghorn sumac. There’s also a shrub with bright pink flowers, I even have some growing in my garden, wild-seeded, but I have no idea what it is. And, for the record, the birds were in more evidence: the usual pigeons, starlings, a couple of crows, but also sparrows, robins and I caught a fleeting glimpse of something which was probably a “confusing warbler”.
It makes me wonder, with all this amazing diversity, why so many of us are intent upon maintaining lawns of only one or two types of grass and wage war upon all other species which dare to sprout amongst the blades.
This morning, to beat the heat, I went out early for my walk. The overzealous maintenance crew has not been along the harbour trail recently, so the paved walkway is fringed with meadow flowers. I identified common vetch, oxeye daisy, red and white clover, common knapweed, birdsfoot trefoil, yarrow, two kinds of wild roses, blackberries in bloom, cinquefoil, common nightshade, coltsfoot leaves, ferns, various grasses, cattails, a tricolour field of lupins, musk mallow, various dandelion-like flowers which could include yellow goat’s-beard, wild lettuce and hawkweed, a small plant with clusters of tiny yellow flowers which I can’t identify. All around me hidden in the trees and shrubs was the rustle and twitter of birds although I only caught sight of one song sparrow and one goldfinch.
The thought came to me that this is an extraordinary burgeoning of life, somehow succeeding despite humanity’s best efforts to mow it down. Would the world become a different and better place if everyone spent time simply observing nature? Would we learn humility? I wish we could make every dictator or wannabe dictator, corporate bosses who only see money, women who more subtly exercise power for personal gain, all those whose greatest pleasure seems to be to control others and glorify or enrich themselves, I wish we could make them all spend time in nature, surviving only by their own wits.
And every child deserves to bathe in the riches of the earth. Generations have been denied this, one of our most basic needs. No wonder the human race is essentially insane and we struggle to regain our lost connections to the world.
I wonder how many of us can look back on the genesis of our chronic illness as far back as previous generations where our parents or grandparents suffered injustice, and the stresses carried through into our own lives. So often I hope that whatever I have carried with me, handed down in part from my ancestors, part things that have happened to me, how often I hope that I’ve not inflicted too great a burden on my children. I don’t think we will ever be able to prevent diseases where our body turns on itself because the human tragedy is too great. But as individuals we do what we can, what we must, to ease our own burdens and try not to inflict more suffering on others.
A sunset one evening, streamers of orange across the Western sky; another evening, soft pink blushing the clouds in East and West, and streamers glowing mauve and pink. And I thought how very perfect this planet is, so very hospitable to burgeoning life.
Then another thought intrudes. How narrow is our definition of life! Of course this planet is perfect, we evolved here and know no other, we reshape it at our peril. But what if life should be defined another way? Not as the self-replicating activity of a certain pattern of elements but as the ability to perceive outside oneself, indeed to have a “self” with which to perceive.
What if intelligences exist which we cannot perceive? Something based perhaps on a different element, silicon instead of carbon? Or with a completely different way of relating to the universe? Perhaps even the rock at my feet, billions of years old, has an understanding and perception of its place in the universe far exceeding my fleeting carbon-based existence.
And from the infinite to the infinitesimal. Do the bacteria whose DNA in my body vastly outnumbers the human DNA, do these beings partake of my perceptions, or do I partake of theirs, or are we together in an endless feedback loop every day gaining in knowledge and wisdom, increasing our understanding of the universe and our place in it?
Recipe for a life: one cup of joy dealt generously in childhood, then sparingly until it seems no more meagre drops can be shaken into the mix. Is it all in the brain, as childhood’s neurons spark, carving channels through malleable tissue? Then things stiffen, jell, until no emotions can move save perhaps an occasional discharge of anger or grief?
But then a morning when
the night before
Venus and Mars paraded across the heavens
this morning two more sparks, Jupiter, Saturn,
heading into the West
until the sun drowns us all in light.
We have always wanted to go into the West.
How could we not with this stately
diurnal/nocturnal parade of light that moves
always, always into the West?
So we go into the West where the fountain of joy is,
and everywhere the flutter of wings, restlessly waiting,
ducks, starlings, pigeons,
flowers of frost, the harbour calm as a bowl of milk,
distant ships that will never find the port I seek.
Gulls cry, cutting the morning apart.
The weather must have been much more like Spring in 2002 when this was written.
Today is one of those days
when you know you will live forever.
The Goddess awakens, thrusting green fingers
through last year’s decay.
Twigs unfold leaves, tiny wings
green flames bright with life.
Just beyond reach, birdsong
threads the lambent sky with joy.
The sun rests on the horizon
like a newlaid egg
full, full, full of promises
and no regrets.
Awakened by the seasalt air
my adamantine soul
imperishable as the universe
warms and grows a little
and I know that I will live forever.