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.


  1. Looking at those teeth, I'd say that's a badger scull. As for the plastic flowers, well, it takes all kinds. For years I've passed a place just south of Hurley that's manicured like a country club. Someone has whipped that chunk of land into submission. Another place north of Ironwood has a meticulously cared for lawn and a white picket fence. It looks so out of place, I can't help but think it's some sort of compromise.
    Now, as for the photo at the top? That's north-country life at it's fecund best. Great shot, Neil!

  2. Neil, what happened to the great photo that was at the blog top at 3:00 AM?

    1. I thought it looked washed out so replaced it.

    2. Too bad it didn't work out. It complimented your first paragraph nicely.

  3. Perhaps the flowers adorn the grave of a beloved family pet.

  4. I've seen quite a few people who decorate outside w plastic flowers, popped into window boxes and around the mailbox. My guess is they are too old, too allergic, or just not good w plants, but they want some color in the yard.
    I'm not 100% sure what the skull is, but it's definitely not a deer. Maybe a coyote, deer haven't developed sharp, pointy teeth like that, yet.

  5. I spent the weekend in St. Louis. Heartache and foolishness was front and center in that wonderful city. I watched police helicopters hover above the Central West End from my son's balcony and pondered the mad reality that slavery's horrors were still being visited on our country almost 150 years after the Civil War's end.

    In a world where madness is part of the daily spectacle, where we have a president who gleefully shares pictures of himself assaulting a woman with a golf ball, our daily dose of sanity and thoughtfulness from Mr. Steinberg is a welcome tonic indeed.

    Thank you for a daily counterbalance to the suspect narratives that are inflicted on us daily.

  6. This reminds me to spend some time in the woods soon. Thanks, Neil.


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