July 18, 2002

Things Are Looking Up

Things Are Looking Up

I don't live my life immersed in pithy sayings of my own or others contrivance, for the most part. But I do 'always say' that the quality of my life is directly proportional to the amount of time I am able to spend lying on my back outdoors, looking up. Horizontal on Earth's edge, facing the ultimate boundary of things, brings one to different conclusions than the daily mundane confrontation that brings us face to face with deadlines, warning signs, litter, and images moving on glass screens.

Unfortunately, I too infrequently follow my own advice. Adults have to sneak to do what children do naturally and without suspicion. It is not easy for a 'grown-up' to assume the posture I am prescribing here. I would embarass my children years ago, when we lived in the middle of town. There was their daddy flat of his back on the front walk, or slightly hidden to passing traffic, in the curve of the driveway wall, staring raptly into space, with his hands cradling his head, looking at....clouds? Leave him alone, kids, he is out having an 'attitude adjustment' in his own peculiar way.

Earlier this week I found myself sliding backwards down a slippery slope of despair brought on by a day of unrelenting bad news in the horizontal surface world. In retreat, I slithered out the door into the heat, and poured myself onto the brick walkway behind the house.

Now in shade of late afternoon, the air was cooling but the stones still retained heat from the vertical world of sunlight. Feeling the warmth against my back and bare legs, I began to give up the toxins that had accumulated with time. Time, blessing and curse.

Time: technological...horizontal time; Western time; linear, by the clock; nano-second, calibrated and precise; practical and efficient; time of schedules and deadlines; externally contrived, artificial; the time of commerce, it equals money; amoral and impersonal.

Time: ceremonial...vertical time; aboriginal time before clocks, subsuming more than the now; non-linear, measurement of internal rhythms, without units; time of meditation, daydreams and rapt participation; time of solitude and time linking every soul to all others before and beyond; cultural time, collective, time of frenzied dance and ritual; perhaps time as God knows it.

Lying on one's back under the sky reverses field and ground. This is one way to bring a tired soul face to face with non-linear, extra-cosmic time. Perspective, scale and ratio can be restored for brief moments in this peculiar kind of time, and so it is therapeutic in its own right. But there is also worth in the flat-of-the-back visions themselves; of silhouetted trees against the sky, the heavenlies, the sky itself in all its moods, day and night; and marvelous moving clouds of every imaginable combination of reflected and diaphanous light and texture, pulled, piled and boiling. Creatures traversing that infinite column of one's vision can be wonderous, too, and in some way hopeful, an antidote to the oppression of Western time and the news from our small, sad world.

So, here I lie, at this moment, warm, pliant, with little expectation. The featureless hazy sky given today as a backdrop is at first disappointing. Nothing for me here today, my oppression tells me, and my hope of epiphany plummets back to earth, heavy and inert. Be still, experience the quiet, and wait. And then I see.

Against the cloudless haze, just over the top of the chimney: dragonflies, hatched from sinister aquatic nymphs down there in the creek, they have become airborne, soundless body and wings at right angles, cursors like crosses, patrolling back and forth the same stratum, the same path, predictable and tireless.

And beyond this, another tier in the cosmic dance, chimney swifts occupy the next stratum; higher, coming, going wildly in formation, squadrons of fusiform bodies dart V-shaped, twittering, after insects that I cannot see, they are more than welcome to them. No chimneys for them here, they must roost in large hollow trees which have disappeared from cities, but remain here in our woods. Spending all their day in the air, they even mate on the wing, clumsy and obsolete when standing, rarely, on their vestigial legs.

Above that, see the chevrons of the nighthawks, a dozen coming in eerily from the east, soaring bent-winged, then changing course irratically as if pulled by invisible threads, 'peenting' their hoarse calls of exclamation. And beyond in this vertical tube above me, two disinterested black buzzards chart lopsided spirals, spectators to all below, not even specks to them which might look down on all of us from the jetliners leaving contrails above.

This 'here' where I lie is a point uniquely mine, me, a being seemingly at rest and fixed, self-knowing, while at just this longitude and latitude and moment my body is being carried, passive, speeding in a wobbly curcuit around the oblate spheroid of Earth, itself spinning about the Day Star, an insignificant point of light in a spiral swirling lace of stars innumerable, one of countless such clusters receding away from each other, toward the expanding edge of virgin space and time.

Time. To everything there is a season. A time for looking up, and a time for looking out. A time to lament, a time to rejoice. A time to speculate, and a time to get up off the walkway and go mow the grass.

Posted by fred1st at July 18, 2002 03:22 PM
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