Friday, March 13, 2009


I woke up today at four in the morning instead of going to sleep at four in the morning, a small triumph after weeks of insomnia. I enjoyed the early morning light instead of staring at it with bleary, defeated eyes through my blinds. I am home and I feel wonderful.

The sun is out. I am looking out at my back yard full of singing birds and I just remembered that I can open the window to feel the breeze.

Earlier, I walked to the pond where I spent most of my childhood fishing. There was a die-off last year, and it is still recovering. The water seemed barren of significant fish; I managed three small bluegill on a fly. Part of me feels very sad that the ecosystem I knew so intimately is probably altered permanently (many clues suggest the crayfish have grown to lobster proportions in the absence of predators). Most of me knows that, at least for a while, there will always be fish to catch everywhere in the world, and that, in the words of science penis Ian Malcolm, "life finds a way."

One annoying convention of nature writing is authors trying to saturate their experience of wilderness with narrative significance. Our experiences of nature, and the way we think about them, should not be subject to the conventions of plot development, symbolism, or anything else that "teaches" in a linear way. The moment that really moves me is what occurs when I become fascinated by something, and it is purely visceral.

The comic Billy Connolly, who is also a fly fisherman, offered the best description of this phenomenon I've ever heard. "When a fish strikes, it's like making contact, just for a moment, with an alien. I guarantee that the first person to encounter a space alien will have the exact same reaction."

Today I communed with the aliens. I was startled by two birds I now know to be green herons, and a third giant deep-voiced brown thing I still haven't identified. I've been bird watching for almost three years in this neighborhood, and I can identify almost anything I see within seconds. But nature's reserve of surprises is inexhaustible, and so is that perfect moment of humility that overtakes you when you witness something for the first time.

For all the myriad ways to be disillusioned by the world, to be ground down and joyless and suffering, I am filled with such gratitude that that one edge will never dull. I cannot imagine a more effective means of suspending self-awareness than watching a hawk snatch a finch from the air, or hunching in anticipation as a bass scrutinizes a lure with its snout.

Every time I go outside with the intention of observing, something special happens. Specialness is tonic; it transmutes indifference into joy.

I don't know what else to say about it. I'm happy. No plot. Just happy.

1 comment:

sally said...