Sunday, February 18, 2024

Revolution Through Embracing Simplicity




In the last few years’ I’ve become more aware of how wonderful a thing it is to breathe. It’s not like I’ve recovered from a pulmonary disease or a near-drowning experience or anything, I’ve just come to appreciate the pleasant sensation that accompanies air moving in and out of my lungs. I feel it now, a slight tickle in what I imagine might be my capillaries.

It’s odd that I never really seemed to be aware of this before. God knows my lungs are not what they once were, having smoked cigarettes for decades. You’d think in my youth I would have occasionally marveled at this feeling, seeing as how all physical sensation seems heightened in youth.

Perhaps this awareness started to evolve a dozen or more years ago when I finally kicked the nicotine addiction, choosing fresh air over poisonous smoke. Sometimes getting a second chance at life makes us appreciate it more.

I’ve also noticed of late how good it feels to move. Again, I cannot move as I once did in my twenties or in childhood. But when I allow my body to move at its own speed, to exert itself with an appropriate force, I am reminded that bodies are meant to move, are happiest in motion. If I only meet it on its terms and do not try to force it to be what I want it to be, but allow it to be what it is, it will not merely respond but do so joyfully. I am not just some lump of clay but the energy that moves through it. I may be dependent upon my limited frame, but it is not all that I am.

I can feel this way in a factory, where the air is not sweet and the sounds are not that of nature. Do not get me wrong, I prefer nature, but I can transcend my surroundings. Sometimes I lie awake at night and feel my breathing, and think of how wonderful it is to be alive. And while I appreciate it that my wife is next to me and our dog is between us, if I were alone, I would still be aware of how pleasant a thing it is to breathe.

I lie in bed and breathe, thankful for the modest but comforting blanket on top of me. I enjoy the coolness of the air mixed with the blanket’s ability to moderate it. If I inhale deeply, I might get a whiff of the simple but extremely enriching meal that my wife made earlier. Such wonderful smells tend to pervade the household and hang around. There are leftovers in the refrigerator and we will have the opportunity to dine on it again tomorrow.

Life is simple. Happiness is simple. The true joys of life do not require fighting over. There is more than enough for all. I sometimes ask myself, late at night when the air is brisk but the blanket is comforting, why we must fight so bitterly for the things that do not make us happy. Why do we focus on other things when simply acknowledging the beauty of the moment has the power to bring us contentment? Sometimes I feel that we as a species are throwing everything away, everything, for things that do not matter at all, for things that do not bring joy but only distract us from it.

I think of such things, and I open myself up to an immense sadness for what we have to lose. The world is dominated by those who fear and crave and hate but who clearly do not appreciate the simple joy of breathing. Such people are leading our society, our species, our entire planet to ruin. Like others, I have tasted despair and quiet desperation in my life, and I know they still call to me, not as a solution but as a resignation.

But then I become aware of my breathing. I hear my dog’s inhalations next to me, free from all the concerns we humans have. I could lose myself to despair, but that would help nobody, least of all myself. I accept the simple comforts the universe has provided me. With gratitude. With joy. Perhaps, if I can appreciate fully such simple things, others might come to ask me what it is that makes me so at peace, so contented, so joyful. I can think of no other way to get people to cease their pursuit of useless acquisitions, to choose a path of peace rather than a path of violence and domination.

I’ve tried other ways, and they did nothing to change the world, they only made me forget how wonderful it is to breathe, how wonderful it is to be alive. I feel it now.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Most Welcome Squatters On My Property


There is a loud rustling on my front porch, so I arise to see if the chipmunk has returned to the bird feeder. As I look out the window a large squirrel lands with a crash on the porch railing, no more than a yard from where I stand inside the house. This frightens the feeding birds to flight and, truth be known, gives me a bit of a start as well. But the squirrel is not there for the bird food, at least not immediately. He is there to slake his thirst, which he does by climbing entirely into the water bowl my wife has set out and diligently fills. Sensing my presence, he jumps out before I am able to snap a picture, but he soon leans back into the water bowl to drink his fill.

As I watch the squirrel on the porch, I notice the chipmunk moving below on the ground. No doubt he has designs on climbing up to the little basket that sits below the bird feeder to catch what the birds so messily drop. I have no idea how he manages to get up there, but I admire his determination. He for his part seems to have little fear of us, and when I come back from a walk to find him in the basket, instead of fleeing for his life, he simply engages me in a staring contest. Even the 90 pound Great Pyrenees that accompanies me on my walks holds little concern for the chipmunk.

A rabbit hops in my backyard, but I am too slow and he is too wary for me to take a good picture. I am amazed that a rabbit is willing to enter the boundaries of my property at all, seeing as it must contain within it evidence of a large though admittedly not so fierce dog. Surely it must know that no dog other than Snoopy is a friend to bunnies. But perhaps it is because he smells the scent of other animals here that he feels safe. Perhaps dog urine is less offensive to his senses than the sort of chemicals people use on their lawns in order to kill the clover that keeps the honey bees alive. Or perhaps it is the vegetables my wife grows which make the rabbits willing to risk being chased by a canine.

My wife does all the work of making our property more hospitable to plants and animals. She grows milkweed, cone flowers and black-eyed Susans for the butterflies and lemon balm and bee balm for the bees. I do my part by being too lazy to use chemicals or pesticides. I only participate in no-mow May because it gets me out of having to cut the grass. But my laziness has enabled the flowering weeds to grow, much to the delight of the bees.

Recently I managed to muster up the energy (or perhaps it was shame) to rake up a patch of Creeping Charlie, inconveniencing a bee intent on sucking nectar from its tiny blooms. I informed him that we would be planting clover on the space where I was now removing the weeds, but he merely buzzed his disapproval. I informed him that I had let some dandelions standing in the backyard for him, but he was rather unwilling to let go of the little purple flowers.

A week later, on a hot day, I was out watering the same area in hopes of summoning forth clover from the seeds we had scattered. A robin alighted nearby, and I couldn’t help getting the impression that she was hoping I would turn the hose on her. Using the mist option, I allowed the fine drops to fall upon her and she did not move away. In fact, I have to believe she appreciated and understood I was replying to a request she had made.

I have come to suspect that the little property that surrounds our houses have some purpose beyond impressing our human neighbors. That our responsibility is not to maintain human standards of aesthetics so much as make them little havens for the plants and creatures we evicted from the neighborhood when we decided to tear up trees in order to build homes and pave streets. Furthermore, I don’t think we do all the lawn work we do just to impress the neighbors but also because we feel we are being judged by them. As for me, I don’t care if the neighbors judge me on the quantity of dandelions in my yard. Ask any chipmunk, squirrel, or robin, and they’ll likely say “Ah, he’s kind of lazy, and he’s not much of a picture taker, but I guess he’s all right.”

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Beneath The Surface (An Allegory)


There was once a large pier from which, in the before time, sail boats used to sail to all parts of the world. But now the giant metal behemoths rule the waves and the sail boats are seen there no longer.

Bereft of its former purpose, families now use it to launch their personal water craft, fish from, and picnic on. On a warm summer day, water craft roil the waters as children play upon the still sturdy beams of the dock.

But early in the morning, before the visitors and vacationers arrived, an old sailor could often be seen sitting at the end of the pier. He had no fishing pole nor water craft: he was content to look out upon and listen to the waves. For the sea was in his veins, and though he was no longer a sailor, he still heard the sea’s call. He visited her to watch the sun rise and stayed with her until the crowds began to arrive.

Often, he would simply gaze for long periods of time deep into her depths, communing with some spirit that only those intimate with the sea would know. For the same unknown longing called to him even now as it once called to him as a young man. Where once he traveled the world in hopes that he might find an answer to this longing, as an old man he became content to experience the mystery without the need for answers.

One day, as he stared into the depths that the waves were always trying to conceal and distort, he saw a motion deep within. It was but the briefest of glimpses but it set the hair on the back of his neck at end. It was one of those mysteries of the deep that sometimes rise from the dark and give hints of all that was submerged.

It was big. Of that there was no doubt. He had seen enough in his days to not be mistaken. A glimpse of white that would terrify him if he were in a boat. Would have terrified if he had been a younger man. Terrified him now.

He thought he knew what it was but stared transfixed at the water, looking for confirmation. Again he saw something — just a hint, but it turned the blood within his veins cold. He scanned the waters, his trained eyes fixed to look beneath the surface and the dancing waves that reflected the sky rather than reveal what was within.

And then he saw it again. This time, there was no doubt in his mind. It confirmed the fear that filled his body. A shark. A great shark, its body larger than a life raft, and just as white. He was safe where he crouched as he peered over the edge of the wooden dock, but still fear gripped him. There are some fears men do not outgrow, some fears that reason cannot tame. It swam about, and the old sailor believed he could feel an aura of malevolence around it. Superstition clings tight to those who have long looked into the depths of the sea.

He stared for a while, waiting for the beast to appear once more. He knew it was lurking, knew it was a hunter that sensed prey. He could almost feel its hunger. And while such a thing frightened him, it was this sort of peril which perhaps urged people such as himself to the sea in the first place. Life lived fully is spent in defiance of the jaws of predators.

He would not have noticed the arrival of others were it not for the fact that his every sense was strained in anticipation of spotting the thing again. They were at a distance yet, not on the pier, but they were readying their toys and their tackle, and would soon be headed his way. Another vehicle pulled up as he looked, and another turned around to back a trailer full of water craft into the water. The old sailor walked toward them, waving to them in warning of what he had seen.

The people were familiar with the old sailor who kept mainly to himself and to the water. They thought him odd but harmless. But as he approached them on this day, he looked — as they may have thought to themselves — off his meds. His behavior was wild and in his eyes was a look of danger. “Do not go in the water!” he cried. “There is a shark in it.”

“Show me,” cried a father, entrusting the children to their mother while he walked toward the end of the pier with the old man. The old man, hesitant to lead him too far out, nevertheless did as he was asked.

But when they got to the end of the pier, the father said, “Is that what you see? Why, it’s only a duck.”

And sure enough, there was a duck bobbing gently upon gentle waves, quite unconcerned with the people on the pier and quite unaware of the danger that lurked beneath.

“Not the duck!” said the old sailor, exasperated and angered. “I have lived my life on the sea, surely I know a shark from a duck. Look.” And he pointed down into the depths, because for a brief moment the shark again raised close enough to the surface to be seen by one who knew where to look and what to look for.

“I only see a duck,” said the father, the patronizing tone in his voice thinly veiled.

“You have to look deeper,” cried the old tar. “Anyone can see a duck!”

“And yet I only see a duck,” said the younger man self-assuredly as he slowly turned away from the older man. He waved his wife and children forward. One who has lived his life successfully without ever encountering a shark may grow foolishly confident that he knows best, and feel he need not worry about what has never bothered him before.

As the man walked towards his family, the old sailor observed that the man with the water craft had released them from the trailer into the water. He stood thigh deep in the water, still close enough to shore to be safe but assuredly headed toward danger. Still more people came, heading toward a day of carefree enjoyment. The old sailor went from one party to another, trying to find someone who might heed his warning. Some seemed concerned initially, but with a nod from the father he had first talked to, they seemed to take the warning less seriously. And so they went about their business, heedless of the old man who seemed increasingly emotional and irrational as he went from one person to another.

At last, he despaired of warning anyone at all. He thought of the duck who bobbed among the waves and thought that at the very least he might be able to save him. And so he grabbed a rock and walked back toward the edge of the pier. People had already fired up their water craft and were speeding off from shore towards deeper regions. As they accelerated, they created huge waves behind them which roiled waters, making it impossible for the old sailor — or anyone else — to see what lay within the depths.

The old man neared the edge of the pier and saw the duck bobbing quite comfortably. He changed his grip upon the rock, getting ready to throw it in the duck’s direction, hoping to scare it away from the danger that awaited it. But even as he loosed the rock a violent eruption happened beneath the duck, and in an instant huge white teeth closed over the duck as it was dragged forever more into the darkness of the water and the darkness of the shark’s belly.

The father who the old sailor had spoken to had seen him throw the rock and came forward to see what had happened. Looking out at the water and seeing the duck was gone, the younger man asked, “What did you do to the duck?”

“It was the shark!” the sailor cried.

“It wasn’t a shark,” said the father, disgust in his voice. “It was just a duck. A poor, innocent duck. And you killed it.”

“I didn’t,” cried the old man. But the younger man was done listening. He walked back to his family and the others who were with them, and soon he pulled out his cell phone and could be seen talking to someone. The people on the shore — the crowd continuing to grow — stared out at the old man, who tried to tell whoever might listen of the danger he had seen.

Soon, a squad car arrived. Two police officers walked out onto the pier, spoke briefly with the old sailor, placed handcuffs on his wrists and led him to their car, where they placed him in the back and drove away.

“Is the bad man gone, mommy?” a young boy asked

“Yes, son,” said his loving mom. “It’s safe to go in the water now.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Road More Travelled (A Prose Poem)


Walk the beaten path and you will get where they want you to go.
They will cut down the trees to make the way straight for you
Kill all the beasts in the jungle so you will not fear to walk through
Pour cement so that you do not stumble
Put road signs and guard rails so you do not lose your way.
They will build oases with chain restaurants so you never leave the highway.
They will loan you money for you to buy a car
To drive on their wonderful roads
Where the trees used to be
Where the animals used to roam
Where the factory farms are now seen
Along the side of the highway.
And then they will build tollbooths
For you to pay for the roads they built
That take you where they want you to go.
The road to work will be well maintained.
The roads to Walmart and from Amazon will be paid for.
The road where the water park is,
Where the lake used to be,
Will be flooded with cars.
But no U-turns will be permitted,
No loitering along the way.
No walking, no public transportation
Just millions of people alone in their cars.
The unbeaten paths still exist
Though the streetlights and the car horns encroach
The unbeaten people still walk them
Treading lightly, so as not to intrude.
They reject the noise
The pollution
The destruction
They reject the fast food
And the energy drinks
And the billboards
But more than anything they reject the destination.
There must be some other way, they say.
There must be some other way.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Scream I Will Not Silence




When I contemplate the horror of the atom bomb
I catch my breath, only to scream
The only acceptable response to mankind’s mass suicide.
There is no calm or rational approach to madness
There is no civil reply to abomination
There is no excuse for the ultimate evil
No explanation, no rationalization.
There is only an unending scream.
Don’t ask me not to interrupt your brunch
The scream will pierce your eardrums as you eat your quiche.
I’ll scream as you watch the Super Bowl and my scream will rise above the roar of the crowd
My scream will continue until the roar of the crowd is one big scream at the greatest of sins.
I will scream at your televised debate
And at your campaign rallies
I will scream until everyone feels the madness that cannot be denied.
I will scream at your child’s christening to alert him to the sick truth
I’ll scream a scream that sounds like madness but is in fact the only sane response to madness.
I will scream for every innocent animal unaware of what we’ve made.
I will scream until every man, woman and child feels the same fear and dread and horror that lurks in my heart
Until there is not one corner or bit of darkness in which the madness can hide unperturbed.
I will scream because I can do no more
And because I can do no less
There will be no peace
Until there is peace
You will not sleep
And if you do
The scream will haunt your dreams
Don’t ask me to be quiet
And let the grownups talk
The bomb makers and the Jim Jones know-it-alls
And the good boy media sock puppets
Don’t ask me to sit alone in a dark closet
Feeling the bugs and worms crawl across my skin
The scream has too long lain silent
In my heart alone.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

A Dream Of A Ridiculous Man (With Apologies To Dostoyevski)


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A Bird At The Window