Saturday, June 02, 2012

Crack-up -- a Saturday reprise

(This post originally appeared in October 2006.)

Here is a sight near my Path I haven't shared before (click to enlarge). Every time I see it I stop involuntarily in my tracks and stare, as if I were a schoolboy standing beside his desk, fixed in the teacher's stern accusing glare. I know this glacial erratic boulder and white pine are trying to tell me something, but maybe I'm just too dumb too learn.

So I say: Hey, Teach. In one of his essays, The Colloid and the Crystal, nature writer Joseph Wood Krutch wrote about opposing forces in nature. "Order and obedience are the primary characteristics of that which is not alive," he wrote. "Life is rebellious and anarchical."

Teacher doesn't bat an eye. So I think: Perhaps Krutch was wrong to identify obedience with non-life and rebellion with life. We know, for example, that the inanimate six-pointed snowflake, so apparently lawful and static, is shivering with molecular vibrations. And we know too that life would not be possible unless nature had contrived elaborate molecular machinery to detect and repair any rebellious deviation of an organism's genetic code. The inanimate and the animate are equally products of law and chaos.

Still, the teacher's accusing glare. Well, I say, Krutch also said that "the ultimate All is not one thing but two."

Teacher sighs. Too neat. Too pat. She's right, of course. What is that damn tree doing? Surely it could have found an easier route to the sun.

Because we are willful creatures we are inclined to see purpose and intention where there is none. So maybe there is no lesson here at all, maybe what I see is just a car wreck of chance, a juxtaposition of improbabilities. Maybe Teach is just waiting for me to figure out that things don't have to mean, just be.

But I make a last ditch effort, quoting Krutch again: "I need, so I am told, a faith, something outside myself to which I can be loyal...and I know, though vaguely, what I think that is. Wordsworth's God had his dwelling in the light of setting suns. But the God who dwells there seems to me most probably the God of the atom, the star, and the crystal. Mine, if I have one, reveals Himself in another class of phenomena. He makes the grass green and the blood red."

Or maybe it's all of it, Teach. The star and the grass, the atom and the blood, the glacial erratic boulder and the pumping capillaries of the pine tree, sunlight, soil, quartz and feldspar, the straining, muscular force of sap -- and the crazy, exhilarating, life-affirming car wreck of chance.