Monday, December 10, 2012

Dewy-eyed


I believe I have mentioned before that many years ago, before I started writing for the Boston Globe, I had a column in the college newspaper called "Under a Skeptical Star." The phrase came from a line of the Scots poet/scholar William MacNeile Dixon: "If there be a skeptical star I was born under it, yet I have lived all my days in complete astonishment."

That was nearly half-a-century ago. I'm still astonished.

Easily astonished. I don't require magnificent vistas, frozen waterfalls, spectacular sunsets. I don't need the Red Sea parted or Lazarus raised from the dead. I've been astonished by comets and eclipses, but I don't need a comet or eclipse. A leaf will do. A snowflake. The tip-tip-tip of a nuthatch heard but not seen in a piney wood. A lop-sided spider web wet with dew.

Don't tell me about answered prayers. Premonitions that came to pass. The paranormal and preternatural. That's when my skeptical star kicks in, the one I was born under. That's when an irrepressible voice in the back of my head whispers: "There's nothing less astonishing than the apparently miraculous."

I'll settle for the commonplace. The ordinary. The quotidian. The flower in the crannied wall. The universe in a grain of sand. A single silicon dioxide molecule is astonishment enough to set my chin agog. How many silicon dioxide molecules in a grain of sand? About a trillion billion by my rough calculation. That's a lot of astonishment.

A lop-sided spider web wet with dew. Even the words are astonishing.