Monday, September 18, 2017
Living and not living
The forest teems with life, but also with death, side by side, the rotting mossy stump right next to the fresh sapling, last season's falling leaves and needles providing mulch for this year's new growth. Wandering the woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior Sunday, you can't help but marvel at the great wheel, life and death, each feeding into the other, and to feel grateful to be part of it yet, for the moment, still alive, along with the green trees and singing birds and blooming flowers, privileged to observe the decay we will all be a part of, eventually.
I was pleased to notice fellow animals also very much alive, such as a noisy blue jay and this yellow-striped garter snake, who slithered by, then paused, motionless, as if posing for me. I placed the end of my stick three inches from his head. He didn't flinch.
Though I also came upon animals who have let go their grip on this sweet life, such as the skeletons below, which I'm guessing are fawns who never made it to adulthood. I felt solemn in their presence, actually removed my hat and covered my heart. Hokey, but there you have it.
And down the scale, I contributed to the life-into-death process, repeatedly, as the touch of a mosquito—frequent this time of year—immediately led to its miracle of aviation being rendered crumpled and bloodied and flicked away. Sorry pal, you picked the wrong spot for lunch. Wonder only goes so far.
Of course everything that wasn't alive hadn't necessarily died, such as the artificial flowers above which, years ago, some property owner placed at the entrance to his lake house to give the spot a flourish that he obviously wasn't finding in sufficient abundance in the nature he was supposedly escaping to enjoy. There were a lot of them, and a plastic flowering tree in a wicker pot. The mind reels.
A reminder of what we think of as aesthetic involves more than just what we see. There is a component of cognition, of understanding. It isn't that the flowers weren't colorful, and some might find them pretty. Until you thought about plastic flowers in the depth of a vibrant green wood. Why anyone would want to mar the living forest with this plastic display of fading unlife was a complete mystery to me, and I considered walking up the road to inquire. But nobody would probably be home and, even if they were, I probably wouldn't like the answer. I snuffed the little spark of unkind judgment that had flickered within and continued on my way.