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Who Has the Time?

Thursday, November 1, 2007
Fayetteville, Arkansas

Some of THE OTHERS are pressed for time. To pause long enough to look at the waxing midnight moon, bright in the cold and cloudless sky, is an act of reflection too weighty for a driven mind to bear.

Can they know the moon in the ceaseless light of the city? Can they recognize its phases under heavy cover of sheetrock and shingles? Can they discern its influence on the tides, the tectonic plates, the emotions? They claim to have moved from sea to land to the limitless regions of the mind, but they go nowhere fast 'cept toward the lonely grave.

They claim the power to change the hands of time, revise the timing of the rising and falling of the sun to suit specific social purposes. They think they are saving something. They claim to attune the arrow of days precisely to the turning of seasons, the cycle of growth and death and resurrection. They try so hard to impose structure on a vastness beyond commonplace understanding.

Who among them has the time to be born, yet alone to be born again?

Who can go slow enough to see the moment for what it is, for what it might be, even for what it was?

Who has the time to think with sustained clarity in the artifice of tubes and plasma, pixels and digital streams?

Keys, Buttons, the Last Sweet Phrase.

You can maneuver your deft, soft fingers o'er the keys of the cell phone, the buttons of the remote control. You can change the shape and pattern of the buzz that surrounds you, choose your elixirs and your poisons, but tell me: What is the color of her eyes, the pattern on the blouse she draped round her womanly form in the layered light of dawn? What was the last sweet phrase he said to you before the fall?

On the trail in the forest the leaves on the trees are turning from green to yellow, gold, and brown. I hear the complaints. The colors don't seem as brilliant as they once appeared in the long ago. Autumn is awful late this year. I was expecting more by now.

The experts say that one's eyes lose power with age. The experts may be right. I wonder if the younger ones worry about diminished colors, weakened rods and cones, crimsons and golds that don't appear.

Distinctions along the Lines of Polarity.

How can I want so much from nature when I'm not even sure what nature is? I think it is a realm of trees and rocks and pools and peaks, beasts of the land and sky and stream, grasses and flowers and mosses and lichens and ferns. I think I can sort nature out from the things of the city, draw useful distinctions along the lines of polarity. Then I receive a thoughtful missive from one-time shop boy and present-day moral philosopher Joseph W., who writes:

"I enjoy this issue of wilderness and society, nature and culture, raised in your most recent piece. It's especially fun to frustrate students with it. I have found in my limited experience that students often don't like the post-modern position that wilderness and nature are just social constructions and don't refer to any real state, but mask domination and oppression...."

It gets away from me, this knowledge I suppose I retain as a body of work. I ingested it, page by page, over two hundred seasons, dining like the wayfarer on The Little Book, episode after episode on my long journey back to the garden. My teacher says I can retrieve passed experiences and discrete facts as I need them, transform them into thesis and synthesis, but I haven't learned how to do it yet. Haven't yet learned how. Haven't learned.

The colors of the trees are beautiful, the Teutonic poet wrote with exquisite simplicity.

To Get There Before the Day Is Done.

In the wilds on the trek only the sun matters. On clear days the shadows cast by the trees are smart enough to guide me when the lay of the land becomes uncertain. Under cloud I might open the compass, let it point the way. I want to get there before the day is done.

I'm not one to travel the steep and rocky path by night. When the sun falls low in the sky, I stop and find a level spot, make camp. I start a fire, pitch the tent, roll out the sleeping bag, boil water for coffee, and await the gathering of night. Only then does the moon assume its indirect role on the experience, and then only sometimes. It is an elusive heavenly wanderer, liable to appear in various guises at the time of its choosing. I can have night without the moon, but not day without the sun — not in this dimension.

One is fire and air, the other earth and water. One is the giver of generated light, the other a repository of angular reflections. One is seemingly benign and hospitable to man. The other is active, raging, unapproachable. Some will call the one a she, the other a he, but I refuse to join in that folly. Not in the darkening fatigue of my uncertainty.

O Night, Give Way.

On certain special nights in my bed on the forest floor, I've been able to read lines of text by the light of the silver moon. I've enjoined the night to give way to the poetry of Uncle Bill and E.P., who speak a truth and a beauty (like the others) from behind the blesséd shade.

I've been able to push my pen across the naked page and look back upon the remainder to impart a sliver of meaning onto mere existence. I've looked up from the midnight page to see the moon's mysterious light, draped like hammered silver sheen between the branches and twigs of narrow forest trees.

But you know this. I can tell you nothing new (under the sun). At best I can twist the message in a new knot, maybe into a ribbon and a bow. You can untwist it as best you can. You can open the package, hold its contents, gently, in the folds of your next long night.


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